The pitfalls of football

Though there is some good news in knowing that the Dallas Cowboys have added Michael Sam to their practice squad, you can’t help but wonder if the St. Louis Rams were a bit homophobic in cutting him.

Michelle Garcia, writing in The Advocate, noted that the Rams as an organization, the coach and the cut itself may not have been specifically homophobic, but our culture is still homophobic, especially in the football arena. Michael Sam’s coming out, being drafted and then being cut illustrates why sports guys feel the need to stay in the closet given all the hubbub around such events. It takes a well-put-together guy to be open, honest and able to handle all the media hype and reactions to him. Some say that guys should take lessons from the women in sports who deal with sexuality issues more easily and openly.

American football is also full of sexism, toxic masculinity, and physical trauma, damaging our football players’ heads for life. Players are taught from day one not to “play like a girl,” to be a super masculine guy. And yes, NFL players make great gobs of money, and “choose” to play this traumatic sport. But how do we deal with our own enjoyment of watching the game, knowing that the prognosis for the players’ health and well-being is poor?

When the NFL recently came down hard on domestic violence cases, we may cheer their decisions. But, when we look closely at this decision, it is also troubling that the Commissioner of the National Football League (NFL), Roger Goodell, will be the ultimate judge and jury regarding who gets to play football. Just look at the way he handled the Ray & Janay Rice case prior to yesterday.

The NFL also reeks of racism: the white “plantation owner,” Goodell, lords over his “slaves,” taking whips to them for what is perceived to be their insolence or insubordination. The white slave owner is also marketing his business mostly to whites and makes huge amounts money off (many) blacks, while damaging their bodies at the same time. We Americans are complicit in this set up as well.

These new punishments for NFL players – who have been only accused of domestic violence – include sitting out of some games, losing some of their income and sometimes their entire jobs. I want women to report abuse but this new decision may backfire in that regard. African-American women especially do not want to criminalize their black partners who are already inordinately targeted by police and justice systems.

After TMZ released the video yesterday of Ray Rice beating his fiancé – who is now his wife – in public earlier this year, we are all celebrating his firing by the Baltimore Ravens and questioning the NFL and Commissioner Goodell regarding how much they knew prior to the TMZ release.

Most frightening of all, though: what do you think is happening in the Rice household today? ... right now?




Barbara Sanders is a psychotherapist, writer and activist in Nashville.

photo via FTCSports

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