Let’s Talk About the NFL
By Claire Bough
The NFL Draft was in town recently in Nashville. And as a resident here, I have a lot to say.
Let me start by saying I recognize the NFL as a medium for one of America’s most popular forms of entertainment. We all live in this world and know how hard it is, so I’m all about people blowing off steam and getting their entertainment where they can. However, I believe the NFL is one of the worst organizations to support, and here’s why.
1. They’re pretty sexist.
DId you know the average wage for an NFL cheerleader is totaled to only $75-$100 per game? When you include all the training and preparation required to pull off the athleticism they display during a game, that’s basically minimum wage. The average salary for an NFL football player? $2.1 million. I don’t have the energy to do the math there, but you can probably take a guess what the percent difference is. I know cheerleaders have been used as the “dumb blonde” trope for years, but it’s 2019. Don’t we all know how much time, effort, and talent goes into the type of stunts they pull off? What they’re doing out there on the field is worth way more than minimum wage.
Beyond their wages, NFL cheerleaders are also treated unequally to players. According to a New York Times report from 2018, cheerleaders are expected to “maintain ideal body weight,” required to “sell glossy calendars of themselves in bikinis,” and forbidden against “fraternizing from players.” The latter rule is especially problematic, since it places all of the responsibility on the cheerleaders to avoid the players rather than vice versa or even having the same restrictions going both ways. The cheerleaders are required to block players who follow them on social media and are even expected to leave public establishments should a player show up at the same time as them. The same rules aren’t expected of the players.
Outside from the cheerleaders, the NFL has a sour track record when it comes to standing up for women in general. I counted at least 20 reports of domestic violence, sexual assault or sexual battery on a list of reported NFL player arrests within the past four years. This may not seem like a big number, but all of these charges were either dismissed, unresolved, or resulted in minor punishments such as anger counseling for a couple of months. Furthermore, domestic and sexual assault cases are historically some of the most under-reported crimes, so this number may not reflect the full scope of NFL players who have committed crimes against women. While these crimes are usually ignored or handled inappropriately by law enforcement, the NFL has also showed their support for these players time and time again, with little discipline or action.
In opposition of the way they treat their male players, the NFL has made swift judgement calls on the entertainers they bring on to play during the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Let’s take a step back into 2004 when Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake held the coveted spot for halftime entertainment. With millions of people watching, an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction (caused by Justin, go back and watch it) forced part of Janet’s top to rip off, exposing her breast to the world. I think we can all imagine how mortifying the moment was for Jackson, yet she was the one forced to make apologies to the media and was consistently vilified for the accident. Though I do think the incident touches on our problems as a society and with the media as a whole, the NFL showed no support for Jackson. In fact, they even invited Justin to come back for the 2018 halftime show while Jackson struggled in the eye of the media.
Flash forward several years to 2012, and M.I.A. performed the halftime show with Madonna. For a fraction of a second during the show, she flashed her middle finger at the camera. Sure, not the most astute choice during a show being watched by millions of families in America, but definitely not worth $1.5 million. That’s what she was fined by the NFL for a "flagrant disregard for the values that form the cornerstone of the NFL brand and the Super Bowl." So, the NFL wants women who make small mistakes to pay, and pay big, but definitely not the men who are making them millions, even when they’re caught attacking women on camera.
2. They’re racist.
Colin Kaepernick and his demonstrations against racism in the U.S. have made big news the past couple of years, but I’ll give you a little overview. As a player for the San Francisco 49ers, he made the decision to take a knee during the national anthem at a game in 2016. The point was to make a small demonstration in solidarity with minorities in America and Black Lives Matter. He was even quoted saying, “This stand wasn’t for me. This is because I’m seeing things happen to people who don’t have a voice…” Keep in mind that 2016 was the year that Philando Castile was shot to death in front of his daughter and Alton Sterling was shot while laying down on the ground. By midway through that year, more than 250 black people had already been reportedly killed by the police. Kaepernick’s silent demonstration was a small effort that he wanted to make as a person of color feeling let down by the country he lived in and the systems that allowed him to serve as entertainment for us.
Maybe you can guess by now, but the NFL’s response wasn’t in solidarity. Kaepernick hasn’t played a game with the NFL since the start of 2017, and this is isn’t of his own doing. The spirit of his demonstration spread to other players though, with more and more kneeling for the anthem in the next couple of years. The larger the demonstration became, the more divisive it became, with even the president and vice president weighing in with their opposing opinions. The NFL has since created a policy to levy fines against players for any protests.
3. They’re liars.
For as much as the NFL espouses family values, respect, and integrity, they’ve demonstrated time and time again that they’re really just a greedy company with greedy owners. Aside from the social issues above, they’ve made it clear that they don’t even give much regard to their players.
Nowadays, we know how dangerous the sport can be and how common it is for concussions to occur. In the past six years, there have been at least 200 concussions occurring every NFL season. If players suffer repeated concussions, it can lead to a traumatic brain injury called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which affects everyday behavior and causes violence in those affected. In 2017, NFL player Aaron Hernandez committed suicide in prison where he was serving time for violent murder. After his death, his autopsy revealed that he had one of the highest rates of CTE ever discovered. There have been countless articles and even movies about the NFL’s cover-up of this type of injury, and the organization didn’t acknowledge concussions as a problem in the sport until 2009. Since then, there have been more measures put in place to make the sport safer, but a large majority of current NFL players could be affected with the injury, according to a study that showed nearly 90% of studied players were affected with CTE.
Aside from the concussion coverups, there are countless team owners who are morally ambiguous, to say the least. The extreme wealth has most likely allowed the owners to feel they can get away with anything, including fraud and racketeering, drunk driving, tax evasion, domestic violence, and more.
I’m not saying people should stop watching football - it will always be a great way to bond with friends and family and enjoy yourself when you have down time. We’re all entitled to good old-fashioned American entertainment. What I am saying is that we need to be a little bit more critical of the entertainment we’re consuming. In an era where we’re calling out actors, directors, artists and musicians of their transgressions, we should be holding the same standards to the team owners and NFL executives who allow harmful policies to affect the women, people of color, and players that make the NFL so enjoyable in the first place. Let’s make sure the organizations and companies we support are using our money to move our society forward rather than hold it back.