I am a huge New York Giants fan. A pretty big football fan really, but the Giants are the team that I was born and raised with. I am also a father and brother, and husband. Like many of you. Where you may hate the team that I root for (and I likely despise yours), we are, many of us, members of several of those latter teams. I think we need to have a team meeting, of sorts.
When word initially broke that my team’s kicker, Josh Brown, was being suspended for a game to start the season, I do have to admit that I found the circumstances curious. Brown, as many of you know, had been investigated for spousal abuse/domestic violence, and all of the reports coming from my beloved team, including Brown’s teammates and leadership, suggested that he was receiving unconditional support. The league, the NFL, had no comment on the accusations or the investigation.
Brown’s ex-wife had reported upward of 20 incidents of domestic abuse, leading to the investigation in 2015. I have a community of friends who are fellow football and Giants fans, and the news, though heinous, was treated with an involved “wait and see” approach. Many wanted more evidence. Some went so far as to outright express disbelief in the claims. They were moving on, preparing for the season, with “one of ours” being absent for just a game. Their behavior seemed to suggest a belief that this would eventually blow over. There was football to be played, and games to win.
Then news emerged this past week. That one game suspension a distant memory. Brown had admitted to abusing his wife. Had documented his abuse of his spouse in a journal taken as evidence. Had reportedly had “disturbing thoughts” where he conceived of himself as “god” and of her as “a slave.”
The NFL and the Giants were forced to scramble. It became CYA and narrative time. Both bodies, team and league, indicated that they had not had access to this evidence, which was supported in a way by the Kings County sheriff’s department. King County SD indicated that the team and league failed to go through proper administrative channels to be provided with proper access to the evidence. Evidence they claimed to have needed. Evidence they did not use in rendering a one game suspension.
We have all been privy to the NFL’s recent stance on domestic violence. Zero tolerance. We all have the examples of swift recent action, in our heads, when evidence of spousal abuse has become public. The league, recent vintage would suggest, had turned a corner. Only in this case, it seems that it, and the team, and his teammates, and this process among us all, had failed women. Miserably.
We have had a troublingly inconsistent history with treatment and management of domestic violence and abuse against women in our nation’s history. Though there has been some modicum of progress with regard to investigating and prosecuting reports, there remains a kind of resistance to fully throwing ourselves into the pursuit. We wish to remain neutral, in a process that requires commitment.
I fully understand that some of this reluctance to commit comes from this very real occurrence of false accusations of rape and abuse. Certainly, those do happen. However, the unfortunate reality is that our failure to respond to abuse, often leading to the death of women and ongoing abuse of children, has placed us in a position where we lack the credibility, as a nation family, to question the veracity of claims. We have been so spotty in our efforts, that we do not have the awful privilege of wondering aloud about whether these things took place. It is our responsibility—with full commitment—to determine what has happened, offer necessary protection, and prosecute any crimes committed.
Our ongoing failure to do so, and in this very public Brown matter as well, is a core reason why so many instances of rape, sexual assault, abuse and domestic violence go unreported. Many women have little faith that their claims will be believed, investigated, and their persons protected from retribution. That understanding, that psychology, is our failing.
Damning in a way, was the manner in which many of Brown’s teammates, my Giants, rallied around him, without seeming to consider the implications. Rashad Jennings and Victor Cruz in particular, were broadly and aggressively vocal in their support of Brown as a man and person. Understandable, in that teammates develop bonds.
What they had not considered however, is how many women, and women fans, and women in their very own lives, were observing. They had not considered the message being transmitted in those moments. That being that men would stand together against these claims. There was a united front against her words. Against the words of this woman, who had stepped forward and identified herself as a victim.
That unity and bond was somehow to be taken as having greater meaning than this woman’s words. Words that she had been hurt, and victimized. Continuously.
It turns out that her words were true. This is actually of less importance than the process. That she was investigated for character flaws and essentially placed on character trial. That she, even as a potential victim, a member of a vulnerable population, would not be believed. That her words and claims about attacks against her personhood, would be placed in a queue, for later consideration.
Our daughters and wives see this. Our mothers and women friends see this. They observe how we act, or fail to act, in these situations. They are reading our body language and intent. Most importantly, they see the devaluation of their personhood. They see that they have to appeal to the role they have in your lives as women to advocate for and protect them, as opposed to doing those things because they, as women, are people. And qualifying what role they have should not be a requisite for our belief and promotion of their words, whether they are being victimized or not.
As a father and man, I see the need for us, all of us, to be better about how we address obvious and subtle abuses of women. We are traumatizing women by our refusal to engage their needs actively. By our failure to hear and respond, and listen openly. These are our failings. We need not repeat these with our sons and daughters. They need to see us act, and to talk, and struggle with developing an informed sense of valuing the personhood of women.
I am now struggling with rooting for my team after considering Jennings’ and Cruz’ disregard for the process of a woman stepping forward, coupled with their rather limited explanations of their opposition to player protest. I am wondering aloud about what kind of thoughts they have. I will not allow them to exist as robots designed to entertain me. I will consider them as persons.
Our children and our families need us to be thoughtful about their protection and our roles as the core in preventing victimization. We cannot continue to wait and watch, for we are failing to do so actively, and women are the truest victims of our inaction.
I want to see my Giants win. But not at any cost. Not at any human cost off the field. I am most dedicated to my human team. And I am pro-human growth, which makes me pro-women. I have no problem linking that sensibility to the notion that I am pro-women and women first. It is past time that we all were.
Photo: Getty Images