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The NFL Will Never Fix Its Misogyny Problem

Accused rapist Josh McNary and the NFL reflect a misogynistic society that refuses to accept its role in problems of its own creation.
January 15, 2015, 5:41pm
Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"I know why you are here."

That is what Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary reportedly said to the police officers who arrived at his apartment Wednesday. This is the same McNary who won the East-West Shrine Game's Pat Tillman Award in 2011, which is presented to the player who best exemplifies "character, intelligence, sportsmanship and service […] both on and off the field." Today the United States Military Academy graduate is facing one count of rape, one count of criminal confinement, and one count of battery resulting in bodily injury. In September of last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reportedly determined that he would be a "leader in the domestic-violence space."


At first, none of the above seems to make sense. A West Point graduate honored with an award named after perhaps the most lionized NFL player of our time stands accused of rape, confinement, and battery, only months after his league committed itself to fighting just that sort of thing after an annus horribilis of domestic violence. If any stock is to be placed in how McNary reacted to the forceful knocking that accompanies any police visit, he knows damn well what he did.

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Here's the thing: despite the jarring details and contradictions of what we know so far, it all makes perfect sense. The NFL and Josh McNary are products of, and reflective of, a society in which systemic misogyny is a feature, not a glitch.

In the wake of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald, and others, the NFL has been forced to tacitly acknowledge that it has a domestic violence problem that mirrors that of the systemically misogynistic culture in which it exists. As a state-subsidized non-profit that cleared $9.5 billion in revenue last year, aims to clear $25 billion by 2027, and enjoys such vast cultural cache that not even a string of violent assaults against women by players can hurt its bottom line, the NFL is neck-deep in a society that quietly accepts the reality of nearly one in five women being a victim of an attempted or completed rape. Neck-deep in a society content with one in four women being a victim of domestic violence. Neck-deep in a society with such an entrenched stigma against victims that mere statistics do not begin to capture the scope of the issue.


With that in mind, the much-publicized run of violence against women by NFL players reflects the degree to which a massive and massively successful enterprise must mirror the worst of the society it occupies. It's no coincidence that America's most entrenched institutions--be it the government or sports leagues--have a long and proud history of treating women like shit to be scraped off a jackboot.

As for McNary? Well, as part of a military family with service roots dating back to World War II, he demonstrates how a willingness to participate in the violence of a violent society complicates the decency almost universally ascribed to a group of 1.3 million people. While the membership of our military is hardly monolithic, consider that the bastion of heroism and valor that is our military quietly suffers from rates of rape, domestic violence, and child abuse that outpace our broader society's already tragic levels of violence. Take someone born and bred within the military's culture and then grant him the unimaginable privilege that comes with being a professional athlete in America and, well, the numbers say you're more likely to have someone who would do exactly what McNary stands accused of doing. By the same token, and for the same reasons, you've also got someone who would be made the subject of a glowing profile that treats his dedication to the military and football as unimpeachable virtues, someone who is "worth saluting" for the uniforms he wears, with no consideration of the way he wears them.

And so we're left with a familiar dread. We're left waiting on Goodell to somehow make the NFL a leader in domestic violence prevention even as the league's front-line laborers continue to hit the newswire for hitting women. We're left hoping that the NFL--a football league, and a business--will fix a problem that predates its existence. We're left wondering why the NFL's tough talk on domestic violence has given way to a Pat Tillman Award winner charged with a trio of inhumane crimes. We do all of this, and we do it all in the name of refusing to acknowledge that it's not just the NFL or military that are broken, but the broader society that so happily and recklessly exalts them.

Until this broken society steps forward to take its blame and confront the menagerie of issues covered up with the childish fantasy of American exceptionalism, there will be no solutions. The NFL will never fix its misogyny problem--not so much because Goodell has proven himself to be a living testament to the Peter Principle--but because the very idea of the NFL's misogyny problem is a palliative, a misnomer, a fucking lie.

Our society has a misogyny problem, and a sports league will never fix that.