With the disturbing Josh Brown story now in the news, two years after Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson stories, Michael Kasdan continues to wonder whether the NFL knows that off-the-field violence is an unfortunate side product of a violent game.
Editors Note: This piece was originally published on September 16, 2014, but was updated today to frame it in terms of current events:
Two years ago, we were talking about off-the-field violence and domestic abuse as personified by Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson. Today, we are talking about those same issues through the lens of (soon to be ex-?) Giants kicker, Josh Brown. Earlier this season, the Giants suspended Brown for one game for violating its personal conduct policy by his alleged domestic abuse against his wife. Although they were aware of the pending investigation, the Giants signed Brown to a 2 year, $4 million dollar contract. He returned to the field of play after his one game suspension.
Earlier this week, news surfaced of journals that Brown had kept in which he wrote various shockingly frank statements. As reported by ESPN:
In the police documents released Wednesday, Brown admitted he “had been a liar for most of my life.” He claimed to have a porn addiction and having been abusive to women all the way back to the age of 7, after being molested as a young boy.
“I objectified women and never really worried about the pain and hurt I caused them,” Brown wrote in an email.
There was also a 2013 “Contract for Change” signed by Brown, his wife and counselor Jerry Price. Item No. 2 states that Josh Brown had physically, verbally and emotionally abused Molly.
In a letter to friends in 2014 that Josh Brown warned would be hard to read, he admitted to carrying an overwhelming sense of entitlement. He said he viewed himself as God and that Molly was basically his slave.
In one journal entry, Brown wrote that he has “physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally been a repulsive man.” Several sentences later, he said he abused his wife. He also detailed his “arrogant and manipulative thinking and possessiveness.”
In another journal entry, Brown wrote that his wife filed for divorce because he was abusive. He listed losing his marriage and “living with the reputation of an abuser” as fears of his.
He has now been placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt list and the NFL is investigating to determine what action it will take.
Two years ago last month, the twin stories of Ray Rice’s violence against his wife and Adrian Peterson’s violence against his child bookended a horrific news week for the NFL, shining a spotlight on the issue of off-the-field violence by football players.
At the same time, another disturbing story broke on the NFL’s other high profile problem: concussions and the overall safety of the game. The big news? According to NFL estimates, almost 1/3 of players are expected to suffer from brain trauma.
For many years, the NFL has obfuscated and sought to sweep this problem under the rug. While disturbing, this is not so surprising. I had always considered the concussion issue the most difficult issue for the NFL to deal with. If they admit that the game is unsafe and they knew it, it puts the whole game at risk. All of it.
But I thought bullying and domestic violence were different. Which is why the NFL’s botched handling of domestic violence cases like Ray Rice’s were surprising. Other than being reflexively protective of entitled players, it’s really in the league’s best interest—forget morally—but as a brand and business to be strong on those issues.
But what if the concussion and violence issues aren’t so different for the NFL?
What if the NFL knows or thinks (even subsconsciously) that men of a violent hyper-aggressive sport that thrives on hard hitting and bloodlust are always going to be (more) violent in real life?
What if football breeds or needs these hyper-masculine, hard-hitting foot soldiers for the game, for the product, and for the money-making juggernaut that is the NFL?
Is off-the-field violence—bullying, domestic violence, etc.—just an “unfortunate side product” of the NFL itself?
(As @TweetofGod quipped last week: “It’s almost as if football has some sort of connection to violence.”)
I understand that all of the actions of NFL players are – by definition – high profile and under the microscope. And not every NFL player is Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, or Josh Brown. But it does raise questions. And it does provide us with an opportunity to ask difficult questions.
If the NFL recognizes that violent aggressive people are its lifeblood—even subconsciously—that’s an incentive for them to not to come down too hard on off-the-field violence issues—unless forced. In that sense, it’s the same as the NFL attitude and thinking on concussions or hard-hitting: if we are TOO tough on this, we may kill our sport. The NFL has acted accordingly—-they have procrastinated and ignored both of these problems.
Now the NFL is being pushed to confront its off-the-field violence problems. And it is being pushed to confront its concussion problems. Perhaps these issues are more similar than it first appears.
Will addressing these problems threaten the continued viability of the league itself?