Being a football fan and a feminist may not be mutually exclusive, but the two don’t go easily together. American Football is as testosterone-driven a sport as there is. While watching the games, whether at stadiums or sports bars, one can often see some of the worst excesses of male behavior.
Few are naïve enough to think that the National Football League is ever going to honestly give a damn about the domestic violence that has plagued it. Every time the issue has come up, it has been all about covering it up and, failing that, doing damage control. I don’t expect that to change.
But the latest ugly incident of domestic violence involving an NFL player has exposed the core of indifference to the issue in the league, and has also hit me personally because my team is the one acting in a most shameful manner.
Josh Brown, the kicker for my very own New York Giants confessed, in documents released earlier this week, to very serious and numerous incidents of domestic violence. He has now, finally, been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. That means he is still collecting his salary until the league decides what to do with him. Given their shameful response to the matter thus far, that is probably enough for the Giants to wash their hands of the matter.
But let’s not let either the NFL or the Giants off the hook that easily. They have both acted horribly throughout from the beginning and continue to do so. The NFL has shown that they have learned nothing from the Ray Rice incident or any of the far too numerous cases of abuse of women involving NFL players. And the Giants, for their part, have made it clear that, if John Mara has not betrayed the dignity that characterized his family’s reputation in running this team through the years, then perhaps that reputation was never deserved in the first place.
Brown was arrested for domestic on May 22, 2015. Eventually, the charges were dropped. That’s not unusual, of course, in domestic violence cases. Earlier this year, Brown was mysteriously suspended for one game by the NFL, and it was only then that his arrest in 2015 was made public. The league claimed that they could not speak to Molly, who was, by that time, Brown’s ex-wife (and I don’t know what her last name is now, or whether it’s still Brown, hence I only use her first) nor get information from the police. So, they were only suspending Brown for one game. The Giants, from ownership to the head coach to the quarterback, all stood by Brown.
The implication, of course, was that they presumed Brown’s general innocence, that this was a one-time incident where tempers flared. Even aside from the fact that even one incident of domestic violence is one too many, that’s an inadequate explanation in and of itself; in 2014, in the wake of the Ray Rice assault case, the NFL sent the following letter to all the teams: “Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force, will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant.” Obviously, they didn’t follow that policy in Brown’s case. He got one game.
The Giants come off no better. When NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell put John Mara, along with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, in charge of overseeing the FBI’s investigation of the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice case, Mara said, “Many of us were dissatisfied with the original two-game suspension of Ray Rice. The commissioner took responsibility for that in his Aug. 28th memo to the owners when he stated, ‘I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.’ He then took appropriate steps to address this matter.”
Mara didn’t do better when it was up to him. Despite being aware of the charges against Brown, he signed the kicker to a two-year deal worth $4 million. This is a kicker, and, unlike other players, they are easily replaced. Yet Mara went forward.
Can that decision be excused by the possibility that this was a one-time lapse of temper by Brown? Even if one accepts such reasoning, and I absolutely do not, it is simply not true that the Giants believed this was a one-time incident. While they may have been unaware that there was a pattern of spousal abuse by Brown since 2009, they knew this was not a one-time incident. How? Because of an incident at the Pro Bowl earlier this year, well before the Giants re-signed Brown. The kicker was drunk and tried to break into his wife’s room (they were staying in separate rooms, which says a lot in and of itself). Earlier in the day, he was verbally abusive to her and took her phone to inspect her texts. Eventually, NFL and hotel security dragged Brown away and moved his estranged wife and her children, one of whom was Brown’s own child, who were in the room with her at the time to a new room.
So let’s cut out the nonsense that the Giants or the NFL thought Brown’s arrest was an anomaly. They knew this man was an abuser and they didn’t care.
Maybe, one might argue, they knew Brown had issues, but they were trying to support him in therapy and get him to work through his problems. After all, one could argue, if he’s really working and making progress on his issues, taking his livelihood away from him is likely to be counterproductive.
Again, that’s a weak line of argument. If that’s how things are being approached, he should still have faced the full six game suspension Goodell committed to. Moreover, the Giants needed to say that this was their approach in their words of support for Brown back in August to avoid the appearance of condoning domestic violence. But none of that happened.
And here matters get even worse. After Brown got the one-game suspension that was widely condemned as too light, this was his response: “I’m not going to go into detail about anything. My major concern is my three kids and the things that are put out there and the things that are being said. This moment happened over a year ago. The case was dropped five days after the moment happened. We’ve moved on with our lives at this point. While I’m not OK with the decision, I have to respect it. So I look forward to a 15-game season and moving forward with my teammates.”
Does that sound to you like a man who realizes he did something wrong? No, it’s more like a man who felt that getting a much lighter sentence than he supposed to was still an injustice done to him! And he was supported in this by his teammates and team.
Jason Pierre-Paul was asked in August if Brown should be cut. “No,” he said. “Why should we cut him? Every guy needs a chance.”
Justin Pugh had this to say: “Obviously, it’s a sad situation he’s been going through, and obviously, you have to be there for your team teammate. It’s definitely something that is tough. I don’t want to get too into it because I don’t know all the details either. So that is something that — I know Josh has spoken with everybody and settled that — but all we can do is support our teammate and make sure we’re there for him. It’s definitely a tough thing to go through.”
After Brown came back from his week off, quarterback Eli Manning said “I’m glad to have Josh back. Support him and support your teammates through everything that goes on. Good to have him back on the team and kicking for us this week. Just saw him and said, ‘hey, good to have you back.’ That’s about it. Move on.” Given some of the things Eli’s father and brother have been accused of, I guess he has a good deal of practice with that.
Head Coach Ben McAdoo said “I do support Josh as a man, a father, and a player.”
Now, with the allegations out, little has changed. On WFAN yesterday, I listened as Giants owner John Mara continued to double-talk about this, with his “waiting until we have all the facts” nonsense. But when host Mike Francesa asked if, given what we now know, Mara felt hoodwinked by Brown, Mara wasted not one heartbeat before saying firmly, “Absolutely not.” So, Mara seems to have known plenty before. He just didn’t care, because, after all, it was just some woman and one who was already divorcing his player.
McAdoo? He says “we’re not going to turn our back on Josh.”
Keep in mind, this is a player who has not shown the briefest glimpse of remorse or the slightest indication that he ever did anything wrong. Getting 1/6 of the penalty he was supposed to get for this horrific crime was deemed an injustice by him.
Nothing has changed in the NFL. And the ironic part is, in the end, Josh Brown is probably the worse off for it. Had the league done the right thing in the first place and waited until the police investigation was closed and these documents released, then given him the full six game suspension that Goodell had committed to, there’s every chance Brown could have made a public apology, served his suspension and been, albeit grudgingly by some like me, given a second chance, having paid a price for his crime.
Instead, Brown’s career is almost certainly over. The Giants have moved on with Robbie Gould. But justice has not been served. Nothing has changed. No message was sent. The NFL still thinks that as long as they put some pink shoes on the players a few times a year and turn one or two of their TV ads into pathetic and self-interested pandering to women they don’t need to address the culture of their sport which, from high school on up, is infused with a misogynistic disdain for women as anything other than sex toys.
And the Giants? Their image as a class organization has weathered some hits over the years, but most of the scandals associated with players on their team occurred after those players had left (Lawrence Taylor, Dave Meggett, Mark Ingram) or caused their departure (Plaxico Burress). This was an instance of the Giants coddling and, one could argue, even condoning spousal abuse. This will forever tarnish the team’s image.
And me? I’ll still root for the Giants on Sunday. But it will be less enthusiastic than it has been in the past, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to support this team the way I have in the past. I can tell you, I will never again purchase a piece of Giants merchandise until the Mara family sells the team, and that probably does indeed mean never.