NPR

With Dark Humor, Anger And Empathy, Women Respond To The NFL

A Ravens fan trades in her Ray Rice jersey Friday after he was cut from the team over allegations of domestic abuse. (AP)

As the National Football League scrambles to defend its actions in amid a series of domestic abuse allegations against players, some of its harshest critics have been women. Female fans are a key part of the league's business strategy — the NFL says that women make up 45 percent of its fan base — but they haven't reacted to the scandal with one voice.

Judging by a recent NBC poll, the scandals are not keeping most fans from the game: Nearly 90 percent said the recent controversy hasn't changed how much pro football they watch.

At a Washington, D.C., sports bar, Atlanta native Tara Bell says she's still cheering her beloved Falcons.

"I grew up watching the games," she says. "I've always been a die-hard fan"

Bell agrees the players should be disciplined. But, she adds, "I kind of look at it as, OK, they are human; they make a mistake, but I will support my team. Even if it was there was somebody on the Falcons [accused of abuse], I would probably still support them. I do believe that you're innocent until proven guilty."

Others have been quicker to judge, at least when it comes to the league itself. Take last week's persistent allegations that the NFL covered up a video of Rice knocking his then-fiancee out cold in an elevator.

Comedian Megan MacKay scored a YouTube hit with a searingly sarcastic video she calls a "Ray Rice Inspired Makeup Tutorial."

"So the first step, as always, is foundation, and I'm using a new shade that I just bought called the NFL," she begins. "I really like this color because it'll cover up anything just to save face."

For some women, that kind of cynicism has been building for years.

"I first got disillusioned with football after I graduated from Notre Dame," says Erin Ryan, news editor at Jezebel, a pop culture website for women.

Ryan was a lifelong football fan, but in 2010, a student accused a football player at Notre Dame of sexual assault. After the player's friend sent text messages warning her not to "mess" with Notre Dame football, the woman killed herself.

Ryan decided to boycott Notre Dame games. Then she started noticing the ever-growing list of assault allegations against NFL players.

The recent scandals, she says, "just reaffirmed everything that this gnawing sensation had told me, this idea that the league doesn't really care about its fans. It doesn't care about its players. It just cares about making money."

Ryan can't remember the last regular season NFL game she saw. She recently wrote a column for Jezebel with the headline, "If You Care About Women and Still Support the NFL, You Are a Hypocrite."

For some African-Americans, though, condemning the league is not easy.

"We don't want to demonize these men, whether they're black or white, because they have issues themselves," says the Rev. Marcia Dyson, a victim of domestic violence and part of the Black Women's Roundtable. "Let us help our sons."

The group said it was "outraged" that all four domestic violence experts the NFL called on to help develop new anti-domestic abuse policies are white, even though two-thirds of the league's players are black.

Dyson says that two senior NFL executives, Anna Isaacson and Troy Vincent, have now agreed to meet with the Roundtable. She wants them to understand that many young players come from broken homes and violent neighborhoods.

"But you come with a lot of issues that you have not been able to address, with the immediate gratification and the power that your league now gives you as a star," Dyson says.

Instead of banning players, Dyson wants the league to help them. Her empathy extends to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who could personify a real transformation, she says.

"I'd rather see him stay and become a better person because of this, honestly," she says.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Baltimore Ravens, today, defended their handling of the domestic violence case against running back Ray Rice. Owner Steve Bisciotti denied reports that he pressed the National Football League to be lenient with Rice.

Rice's case is one of a series of scandals plaguing the NFL, prompting widespread criticism. According to the league, women make up 45 percent of its fan base. And as NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, women are not reacting with one voice.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Judging by a recent NBC poll, the scandals are not keeping most fans from the game. At a Washington, D.C. sports bar, Atlanta native Tara Bell says she's still cheering her beloved Falcons.

TARA BELL: I grew up watching the games, and I've always been a - you know, a diehard fan.

LUDDEN: Bell agrees the players should be disciplined. But...

BELL: I kind of look at it as, OK, they're a human. They make a mistake. But I will still support my team. Even if there was somebody on the Falcons, I would probably still support them. I do believe that you're innocent until proven guilty.

LUDDEN: Others have been quicker to judge, at least when it comes to the league itself. Take the past week's persistent allegations that the NFL covered up a video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee out cold in an elevator.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "RAY RICE INSPIRED MAKEUP TUTORIAL")

MEGAN MACKAY: Hi, everyone. Baltimore Ravens player...

LUDDEN: Comedian Megan MacKay scored a YouTube hit with this searingly sarcastic video she calls a "Ray Rice Inspired Makeup Tutorial."

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "RAY RICE INSPIRED MAKEUP TUTORIAL")

MACKAY: So the first step, as always, is foundation. And I'm using a new shade that I just bought called, The NFL. I really like this color because it will cover up anything just to save face.

LUDDEN: For some women, that kind of cynicism has been building for years.

ERIN RYAN: Well, I first got disillusioned with football after I graduated from Notre Dame.

LUDDEN: Erin Ryan is a news editor at Jezebel, a pop-culture website for women. And she's a lifelong football fan. But in 2010, a student accused a Notre Dame football player of sexual assault. After the player's friend sent text messages warning her not to mess with Notre Dame football, the woman killed herself. Ryan decided to boycott Notre Dame games. Then she started noticing regular assault allegations against NFL players. The most recent scandals?

RYAN: It just reaffirmed everything that this gnawing sensation had told me. This idea that the league doesn't really care about its fans - it doesn't care about its players. It just cares about making money.

LUDDEN: Ryan can't remember the last regular-season NFL game she saw. She recently wrote a column for Jezebel with the headline, "If You Care About Women And Still Support The NFL, You Are A Hypocrite." For some African-Americans, though, demonizing the league is not easy.

MARCIA DYSON: We don't want to demonize these men, whether they're black or white, because they have issues themselves. Let us help our sons.

LUDDEN: Reverend Marcia Dyson is a victim of domestic violence and part of the Black Women's Roundtable. The group said it was outraged that all four domestic violence experts the NFL called on for help are white, even though two-thirds of the league's own players are black. Dyson says the NFL's now agreed to meet with the roundtable. She wants them to understand many young players come from broken homes, violent neighborhoods.

DYSON: But you come with a lot of issues that you have not been able to address with the immediate gratification and the power that your league now gives you as a star.

LUDDEN: Instead of banning players, Dyson wants the league to help them. And her empathy extends to NFL Commissioner Goodell.

DYSON: I'd rather see him stay and become a better person because of this, honestly.

LUDDEN: That way, she says, we just might see a real transformation. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Most Popular