Are You Ready for Some Football? by John Erickson


John Erickson, sports, coming out.There is never a reason for physical violence.  There is never a reason to hit your partner or child to the point where they are unconscious or bruised.  There is never a reason to inflict violence against someone else, but apparently there are exceptions to these rules if you’re an NFL football player.

In my native state of Wisconsin, watching football on Sunday is synonymous with attending church prior to the game.  Watching football on Sunday is a cultural norm in many, if not all, different regions of the country where individuals, whether you like it or not, gather each Sunday to both praise and pray that your team ends up on top.

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In Wisconsin, you attend church with your family and head to your desired destination where you gather with friends and family to eat, talk about your life, and of course watch your local football team battle their weekly rival.  Although I am not much of a football fan these days, I have very fond memories of attending football games, watching them with my family and talking about the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl chances.  It was my time to both bond with the men of my family as well as catch up on the gossip the women would whisper back and forth to each other at the dinner table while the men were in the other room screaming at the TV.

Although I’m sure I will watch more games in my future, lately, all I do is cringe when I think about the growing violence that women and children face and have faced in the large shadow of an organization worth north of $9 billion dollars.

The biggest scandal to hit the news waves lately is that of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s assault of his wife in an Atlantic City elevator.  Although Rice and the various other incidents regarding NFL players and violence is disturbing, the biggest problem facing the NFL isn’t just its treatment of women but its continual commodification of them as a disposable resource emblematic with the culture of violence that it has created.

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If you didn’t know, women make up an estimated 45% of the NFL‘s more than 150 million American fans and have, in recent weeks, become their most valuable resource and source of criticism.  However, after a long string of incidents stemming back from NFL teams underpaying cheerleaders to the Ray Rice incident, one needs to ask what the roles of women, if any, are outside of the disturbing images of the abused wife, hypersexualized cheerleader?  Is being dragged out of an elevator by your abusive husband the only way to get women’s issues addressed in the NFL by fans, league owners, and the NFL commission?

The roles of women in the NFL and religion have many similarities.  Aside from end zone celebrations where players praise God for his apparent direct role in helping them score a winning touchdown or certain players edifications as gods on Earth, women make up the crux of both NFL fandom and attendance but are responsible for the gatherings similar to the ones I, and many others, grew up with.

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Although putting women in charge of drafting new policies that address the “woman problem” currently facing the NFL, it too reeks of the similar dismissive and patronizing actions women face when trying to obtain leadership roles in their religious traditions.  Supercilious progress for the sake of progress isn’t progress and progress under the guise of silence is still misogyny.  We need women in positions of leadership in both the NFL as well as in religious traditions.  The culture of violence and silence will only continue, albeit with a Band-Aid firmly in place, holding the painful experiences and histories of women, long forgotten and often overlooked, until society values their rights just as much as the men leading the prayers and those that are being prayed for on Sundays across America.

Ann Braude said it best in her foundational text Sisters and Saints that “if we want to understand the history of American women, we need to examine the religious beliefs and activities that so many have found so meaningful.” Without women, we wouldn’t have many, if not all, of the religions that are present throughout the world today and in case we forget, without women, we too wouldn’t have the millions of little boys who grow up being taken to and from practice by their mothers with the hope that they too could one day become the professional football players that fans scream and pray for.

Without women, there is no NFL and without women, there is no religion.  Kelly Brown Douglas said it best on this very blog when she stated, “It is the violence that violence creates.”  Although I agree with her, I would only add that while violence does indeed create violence, the real sin isn’t the violence itself but rather the silence that follows.

Let us pray that we will continue to not be silent and that we will rise up and fight for the millions of women (and men) each day who do not live in fear that their significant other’s multimillion dollar contract will not be reinstated but rather that they and their children may not see another day on this Earth.

 John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University.  He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. The LGBTQ and women’s rights movements, masculinity studies, gender theory, and the utilization of technology in forming communities and creating new teaching methodologies influence his research interests.  His work is inspired by the intersectionality of feminism, queer identity, LGBTQ history, and religious and sexual cultural rhetoric. He is a Non-Fiction Reviewer for Lambda Literary, the leader in LGBT reviews, author interviews, opinions and news since 1989 and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion’s Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation.  When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he is the City Council Deputy and Chief of Staff to Councilmember Abbe Land. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Activism, American History, Belief, Bible, Community, Domestic Violence, Feminism, Gender and Power, General, Media, Men and Feminism, Patriarchy, Politics, power, Power relations, Sexism, Violence, Violence Against Women, White Privilege, Women's Suffering

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26 replies

  1. The sin is the violence perpetuated by the sin of silence about it.

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  2. Thanks, John! You say, “There is never a reason to inflict violence against someone else.” American football is itself a game of inflicting violence. The fans groove on that violence. If you don’t think it’s violence, look at the number of concussions and head injuries, as well as catastrophic blows to the body that have caused permanent disability to so many retired players. And as your cartoon suggests, the sexy girls with the pom-poms on the sidelines are just as sexist a tradition as is the rest of the game.

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    • Although individuals define agency very differently (just look up some responses from women defending Ray Rice) we have to make sure agency, in regards to violence against women and violence in general, do not get clouded with “taking away” something from people.

      I feel that people who are against “feminism” or progressive causes think that some of their freedoms are being taken away; they no longer have the right to choose how they want anymore, when in reality that is not the case.

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  3. Great post. As it happens the first NFL game I ever saw was one played on a very cold day in Wisconsin–the now famous Ice Bowl of December 31, 1967. I was not there–like most other people who watched that game I watched it on TV. I mention that personal anecdote because I think it relates to an issue of general concern with respect to how what is plainly an obsessive quasi-religious devotion to sports in general and the NFL in particular has grown largely as a byproduct of advances in technology since 1967. Ostensibly those advances are all for the better, but I am not so sure. It is not just the weather that technology insulates the audience from, but the violence as well. If people saw up close what happens on the field as well as its after effects my guess is the audience for football would be a fraction of what it is today. In recent years technology has so removed the audience from the field that the reality of the game all but disappears. Perhaps the most disturbing manifestation of this is in how those who ‘participate’ in fantasy football are concerned with injury updates not because of an actual concern for flesh and blood (and, oh yes, brains) of the real players but for their selfish desire to get a betting edge. In this context I ask: is the virtualization of violence itself violence? To the extent the answer to that is ‘yes,’ then the problem is plainly not just the NFL.

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  4. And since I watched League of Denial, the PBS special on the NFL and brain injury over the long-term, I have been unable to watch the Green Bay Packers or pay attention to anything much involving the NFL. Thank you for bringing the violence against women (and children) to our attention through this blog. I believe the PBS stations will be replying League of Denial, an excellent Frontline documentary.

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    • It is a well done documentary and the violence that is inflicted upon these player’s individual bodies is another topic that more people, especially the men and women driving their sons and daughters to Saturday football practices, need to be aware of.

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  5. I think women should totally go away from both patriarchal religions–the standard-brand churches and professional sports, especially football. Let the two patriarchal religions go off to an island somewhere and play all the games they want to. And stop committing violent acfs against us.

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    • My fellow Cheesehead! You didn’t mention that Sunday Church everyone is dressed in yellow and green. Even purses!
      I think your second sentence is 13 words too long. It is never ok to hit. I suppose war and sports are the noted exceptions but no need to qualify with “your partner or child to the point where they are unconscious or bruised.”
      My husband and my girlfriend hit me once. They felt so bad, I didn’t have to say anything. I am very fortunate about that.

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    • Exactly Barbara! I find myself having to exit out of some posts on this blog that defend many of these patriarchal religions that I find to be violent either through their silencing actions or the actual violent acts that their doctrines and beliefs inflict upon women (and other minorities – LGBT, communities of color, etc.).

      Although I have left my tradition, I do not think I am any less of a person or that I am any less qualified to speak about certain topics. Sometimes the best voices are the ones that are not concerned with whether or not the Church elder will read their posts or how it will make them look on Sunday mornings (or whenever you meet with your religious or faith-based community).

      Even though it may seem like darkness is all that there is outside of the holy walls of your religious community, I know for a fact that there is indeed light at the end of that dark tunnel waiting for people brave enough to enter and make it through.

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  6. Thanks for this post, John. Not having grown up in a family that watched football (maybe because we were all girls), I had no idea about the ways in which this sport has brought families together. I know from my reading how it has separated families along gender lines (including in its images of sexy cheerleaders and violent male players). As a result of this last fact and my own experience watching football in high school, I’ve always seen it as reprehensibly violent. Now I have to reconsider this judgement. Thanks. It seems to me that the family connection, both for churchgoing and football-watching women, is a big factor in why they continue to support such obvious misogyny. We need to factor this in when trying to make change.

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  7. Women need to stop watching football and let it fail financially. The very game itself is glorification of male violence, whipping up crazed fans into a frenzy, and training men to be attacking horrifying pit bulls. I don’t want to have anything to do with those violent male sports or the male churches, and women need to stop supporting both religious institutions and football. Just say no. I never watched football, I see men acting as maniacs in bars and stores around town when they gaze like zombies at football games and all ball games really, brain dead, glassed over eyes, violence worshipping terrors. The brain injuries to the players, which would be an outrage in a more ordinary industry, but is allowed to continue without the wholesafe shut down of male supremacy enshrined in sports. It is very hard to escape the sports maniacs out in the world, I don’t want to have anything to do with it and deeply resent having it shoved in my face everywhere i go.

    I come down hard on lesbians who watch this garbage, and I have nothing to do with men who are sports fans. They are part of the problem, violence is what the game is all about, and the right to bash women afterward and watch half nude cheerleaders which is all about female objects cheering on maniac, rapists and oppressors, nothing more nothing less.

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  8. Hi John,

    Thank you for this. I think, as we have discussed, I am getting tired of the same old circle of excuses we hear tired to things like football and traditional misogynistic religions.

    “I grew up with this..”

    “It brings me comfort…”

    “My family did this together and it is a form of bonding…

    “I want to call for change from within the community…”

    “Not everyone involved is bad…”

    I get it. I do, but at some point it all stops being acceptable to me. We could be talking about Church or Football. That should be scary to people but its not. There are always excuses associated with those who actively participate in patriarchal structures that hurt others. At what point do those who many not be responsible for the “big sins” become responsible for the culture they are participating in by being part of the community? I am a victim of church abuse. I have so many friends and family members who have suffered from domestic violence. I wont even go into how rape statistics affect my life/friends lives. These cultures are intricately intertwined with the theologies that are constantly preached at the pulpits of other “arenas” where men are worshiped every Sunday. I just– I’m tired of the same old, same old. Something has to give, and lately I think that, as a woman, not taking a stand, as TW says, against these types of institutions–a real stand– makes some of our best allies enablers.

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    • Remember, it is ok to be angry!

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      • We need to be angry when all we see is the same image of a woman being knocked down and dragged out of an elevator and kicked by her husband on repeat on our 24hr news cycles.

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      • I just keep waiting for actual action. I mentioned to a friend potentially doing a campaign where Sundays I blackout my facebook picture and banner in solidarity with woman and children everywhere who are affected by the structures that hold them back on Sundays. I want to take back the blackout and black them out. #operationblackout. I really might start doing it as a way of silently protesting, at least publicly where those I love will see it and maybe ask about it. Sunday is the darkest day for women worldwide. I just– I want to take it back.

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  9. One big comment I have been getting is “Well, she hit Ray Rice first! How is that right?” My only response is – It is not the same and to equate that with the history of domestic and sexual violence that women have faced at the hands of men is absurd.

    To read more on that topic, view this article – http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/09/no-hope-solo-is-not-like-ray-rice/380626/

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  10. One of the saddest aspects of football obsession is that it has taken over family space at holidays and as you note has also replaced the family lunch after church. In many families the choice is to absent yourself from the family or watch what they are watching, neither choice being optimal. Sighhhhh

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    • I never saw this as taking over anything. I actually look(ed) forward to it. It was always on as background noise for me. While I weaved to and from each room (where it was of course playing) I was able to spend time with my family and still be with them in this unique way.

      I probably wouldn’t have half as close of relationships with my family if we didn’t gather to watch football.

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      • I guess that’s possible if you like football. In my family we used to sit around and talk and then sometime in the 70s football became all pervasive. Since I don’t enjoy football at all, I suggested maybe we didn’t have to spend all of all the holidays watching it. I was told “my way or the highway” by the males in the family who acted like “there she goes causing trouble” again. I guess your experience was different because you liked watching the game.

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  11. I do not mind watching Football. I’d rather choose a good movie to have on in the background but it was merely on as background noise for some while we all gathered. Never had men in my family saying “my way or the highway” but I associate that with the feminist parenting of my maternal grandmother (while also loving football too!) We also associated it with Regional Pride. It is a honor to call yourself a Packers Fan in Wisconsin. It is the only NFL team actually owned by the fans and the players do more for their community than any in the NFL (in my opinion :) )

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  12. Maretha, you are absolutely right, this whole “I grew up with…” “the family did this….” excuse is just that, an excuse to enable churches, which hate women, and football teams which hate women. Those who keep supporting these patriarchal institutions don’t get a free pass.

    I am a radical feminist, which means I center MEN as THE PROBLEM, it is totally a male problem. Women on the other hand enable these womanhating structures, everytime women watch football they give power to violent males in stadiums. So if you want an end to patriarchy, you have to stop saying “I grew up with” and start saying supporting football or male religions does direct harm to women– nationwide and worldwide. Men will keep doing this because they are men, because nobody is going to punish them or lock them up for watching and supporting womanhated and male violence glofication at the stadium or on TV. But if there ever comes a time when I can throw men in jail for enabling this, I will, I plan to throw away the key too.

    Women need to show absolute rage at male behavior 24/7, we need to shine a harsh light on those who make “I was raised that way” excuses, because it is enabling huge crimes against women, it is what an enemy does.

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