No one would dispute that America is a nation of pizza obsessives. We eat 3 billion pies each year, which comes to about 350 slices each second, or about 46 slices per person per year. And with 70,000 pizzerias serving it up, availability is a prime factor. But despite this or perhaps because of it, pizza has become a form of edible currency. Pizza Hut is giving it away to fantasy football team owners as a trade incentive; they're also doling out coupons to users of Visa's new Checkout app. A separate app for Stanford fans allows users to win free pizza for correctly guessing certain outcomes within the team's games. And now, ashamed Baltimore Ravens fans can get a complimentary pizza if they turn in their Ray Rice jerseys to a local restaurant in the name of nonviolence.
As it is, former fans of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice are in an ugly position. After abhorrent footage surfaced of Rice punching his now-wife in an Atlantic City elevator—leading to a bona fide media firestorm and ample questioning of the NFL's previous knowledge of the video—there was little room left for debate as to whether Rice was worthy of staying in the league or in our collective consciousness. Merchandise emblazoned with his name and team number is practically being dragged out of homes and torched in city squares. It only makes sense that those particularly disgusted by his behavior would want to incentivize others to abandon any evidence of fandom completely, and Baltimore businesses know that the best way to do so is smothered in cheese and pepperoni. Locals can now trade in their cultural contraband (Rice jerseys) for the preferred incentive of 2014: a piping hot pizza, in this case from Hersh's Pizza. (Although nearby No Idea Tavern is also offering a $10 bar tab for trade-ins, they haven't achieved the same level of attention.) Essentially, the program functions in the same spirit as a gun buyback program; for each contribution, Hersh's also donates $2.70 to an anti-domestic violence nonprofit. And on its Facebook page, Hersh's has been flooded with support because Rice's actions were so despicable. (The very whisper of free pizza also helps.)
But the question remains: Why should these fans need to be lured with pizza when the world has known since February that Rice beat his wife unconscious? At the time, Rice-apologist commenters suggested that maybe she drank until she passed out, neatly deciding to retire during an elevator ride of only a few seconds. Maybe she hit him back, his defenders offered. And so Rice sat out for a few games, and seven more months passed of cheering crowds and millions of corporate dollars shuffling into his wallet until we had to stare the hideous act in the face, recoiling from our laptops, to decide that that was enough. Is it fair to infer that these fans—had they still been wearing these jerseys for the last half a year?—presumably had to be offered free pizza to even consider donating money to a nonprofit that fights violence against women? But pizza is a universal means to coax, as evidenced by Pizza Hut's concurrent pizza campaigns, as well as a flurry of others that have popped up in recent months.
It's worth noting that America's beaming love of all things pizza isn't entirely coincidence, and that the larger body of sports fan comfortably aligns with the pizza-scarfing demographic—obviously, businesses keep this in mind. We are a nation that loves to love football, that wanted to believe the NFL when they told us that they just weren't sure what happened in that elevator, but also a nation whose sensibilities can be bought for a medium Meat Lover's and a two-liter bottle of Coke.
Interestingly, whoever was manning the DiGiorno Pizza Twitter account yesterday somehow managed to notice the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed without being privy to the developments in the Rice case (or perhaps without realizing that the hashtag was a reference to women who have been victims of domestic violence). "#WhyIStayed You had pizza," they cheerily tweeted to more than 81,000 followers, totally oblivious to the implications. (A follow up tweet sheepishly reads, "A million apologies. Did not read what the hashtag was about before posting.") Reading the careless initial tweet, it was difficult not to mentally refer to the anti-spousal abuse PSA from the 90s that featured an enraged and abusive father disgusted with his wife's decision to order pizza instead of make him a home-cooked meal. ("What is this? Pizza? Dinner ready … is pizza???") The ad serves as an early relic of the mysterious, ongoing relationship between pizza and violence towards women, or maybe even its earliest sign of their entanglement.
Is pizza the official food of confused NFL fans? Although Hersh's may be clever and even generous, let's not pat ourselves on the back too much while we take a second slice. We may love pizza, but we shouldn't need it to show us right from wrong. The American people have eaten pizza for you, and we can eat pizza against you, Ray Rice.