The Root of The NFL’s Violence Problem is Misogyny
Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, two pro-NFL players who have recently been either suspended or cut from their respective teams, have much in common. They’re both running backs in the midst of successful careers. Both have wives and child(ren). And both men are, apparently, Christians.
Adrian Peterson, in his first “official” statement after being indicted by a grand jury for injury to a child, posted a photo of Bible verses to his Twitter account. Ray Rice, who was cut from the Baltimore Ravens once video surfaced of him punching his wife so hard she lost consciousness, reportedly became a “born again” Christian after the incident, and claims to be a “changed man.”
At face value, their crimes seem very different. Peterson, acting in what he saw was an appropriately loving way, beat his son bloody with a “switch.” Or as he called it, “whooped” him – in the legs, buttocks, and scrotum. Many people, including celebrities and former athletes like Charles Barkley, have defended Peterson’s actions, claiming that spanking is not abuse, and since they themselves survived being “switched”, so can their kids.
Not as many people have sought to defend Ray Rice’s actions, which, unlike Peterson’s, were caught on video. Rice can be seen punching his wife Janay in an elevator, then standing over her unconscious body, seemingly unphased. While Peterson was just suspended for his actions, Rice was (eventually) cut by the Ravens.
What’s interesting is the seeming distinction that some have made between these two actions. One is seen as debatable (spanking) and the other is not (domestic abuse.)
In discussions on the use of spanking, especially among Christian parents – who overwhelmingly support the practice – many have quoted the Bible as why they physically discipline their kids. “Whoever spares the rod spoils the child”, from Proverbs 13:24, is often cited. As is Proverbs 23:13, “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.”
Yet, if we are to use the Bible as a defense for corrective violence, we can’t just use it as it applies to children. Since Biblically, children AND women were both seen as under the “headship” of their father/husband. Instructions regarding “obedience” are given in the Bible not just to children, but also to wives and servants (under the household codes, of which all three fell.) Why would it then be OK, Biblically, to use physical discipline on your servants and children, but not your wife, since all fall under the same household codes?
Well according to some Christians, there is no distinction. Have you heard of “Christian Domestic Discipline?” It’s the practice of husband’s, “lovingly” paddling or disciplining their wives with spanking (not that kind) if they disobey. Well. At least their consistency is refreshing.
To many other Christians though, this would be absurd. Or at the very least, going too far. Even the proponents of Christian Domestic Discipline would agree that what Ray Rice did to his wife was abusive. And many of those who believe in spanking have agreed that Adrian Peterson crossed a line.
But how did we even get to a place where there was an acceptable line to begin with?
Patriarchy would be a good place to start. This of course being the belief that men, “real men”, the kind with strength and power and “headship”, should be in charge. Should be the leaders. And that women and children should defer to them. You know what else Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice have in common? They’re both a part of the NFL, a place that perpetuates a subtle patriarchal view of worth and value. The wives of NFL players (most of them) stay home and do whatever they can to support their men. The husbands are the stars, the bread-winners, and the ones who everyone else’s lives revolve around. The NFL might not be a “biblical” organization, but they sure are a patriarchal one.
The problem is that patriarchy does not work. It does not lead to happy, healthy families, but instead breeds a culture of abuse – either physical, emotional, spiritual, or even sexual. When women and children are seen as not equal to men, they’re treated like they’re not equal. Which means their abuse is reacted to not with horror, but with justification or laughably insufficient punishments. It’s no wonder then why an organization with no female coaches, players, announcers, owners, or referees, would fail to treat women with the respect they deserve.
The solution to the problem of violence in the NFL isn’t just to hire more women (although that would be a good start.) If we want to get to the root of the problem of violence against women and children in the NFL, or in our society in general, we have to start at the source. The source is misogyny. And until we as a society, a church, and a culture, can see and treat women as equal to men, we’re not going to change a thing.