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The NFL's Domestic Violence Problem Is Society's Problem

Why does anyone think the NFL can do anything to solve domestic violence?
Photo by Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti finally showed his ass and gave a labyrinthine press conference in response to the Outside the Linesreport that he was complicit in covering up Ray Rice's assault of Janay Rice. Bisciotti conceded "I'm not that uh, uh, uh, um, um, um honorable I guess," his casual faux-ignorance more sickening than funny. He simply didn't give a fuck about Palmer, and he even admitted it straight out, when he said "I was never concerned or interested enough to demand [the tape]."


It's now a matter of public record that he and Roger Goodell conspired to sweep Rice's crime under the rug, but he knows he won't face consequences. The press conference wasn't even about being right or being just. It was an exercise in posturing. Bisciotti didn't refute the OTL report because he feels remorse about trying to get the world to ignore Janay Rice. He went public to protect the reputation of his cash cow, the Baltimore Ravens. He is a very rich man supported by the even richer NFL, and in our society, very rich men get to do whatever they please.

This is the problem with the idea that the NFL needs to be a moral authority, as Cris Collinsworth and others have suggested. The NFL shouldn't get to arbitrate right and wrong because the owners who run it don't have a barometer for right and wrong. They are a business that treats its employees like disposable cogs. Never-ending demand from fans means the NFL is not beholden to morality. Mistaking the NFL's face-saving actions for compassion would be mistaking PR fluff for a moral compass.

Besides, Steve Bisciotti, Roger Goodell, and the NFL aren't the problem. It's a deeper, gnarled rot. We conflate wealth with authority, power with virtue. The NFL is both wealthy and powerful, but that doesn't give it any kind of divine right as a distributor of justice, as much as it claims otherwise. The only point when the NFL started to quiver since TMZ leaked the full elevator video was when major sponsors kinda-sorta-vaguely expressed displeasure with the league. Goodell isn't the auteur of the NFL's leering misogyny. He's a figurehead who is responsible for keeping owners paid, and it turns out leering misogyny is as ubiquitous in football as it is throughout American society.

Firing him isn't the solution to the NFL's disregard for domestic violence. It wouldn't change a thing except the tone in which the league presents itself, at best. Bisciotti and other owners aren't about to replace him with anything other than another freshly-assembled bureaucrat who will know how his bread gets buttered. People who believe that Goodell's firing would lead to meaningful change are missing the point: domestic abuse and misogyny aren't football problems, they're everybody's problem. Goodell's line about how the "NFL is a microcosm of society" demonstrates why the moral imperative for change is at the institutional level—the NFL is indeed a microcosm of society and it's society that needs changing.

So, don't look at the NFL and see a repulsive painting by Bruegel or Bosch. See a mirror. See that domestic violence is a widespread societal evil, not something modular and neatly confined to the NFL. See its enablers and those who profit from silence and the status quo. See the large-scale shrug at domestic violence and know that meaningful change won't come at the expense of one propped-up executive. It will come from a society that finally works toward broad, sweeping, institutional change, and it won't be as convenient or easy as firing one rich man.