An Open Letter to Roger Goodell from a former NFL wife and an abuse survivor
Dear Mr. Goodell:
My name is Marcia Mount Shoop. I am a theologian, author, Presbyterian minister, mother, and coach’s wife. I am also a rape and abuse survivor. I spent the first twelve years of my marriage as an NFL wife while my husband coached for four different teams. We are thankful for our time in the NFL even as there are lots of things I do not miss. One of those things that I don’t miss is something I still deal with: sexism. The difference is one of magnitude; in the NFL it’s all wrapped up in a glittery package, and no one really thinks it is a problem.
That’s why I am writing you today, because lots of the things the NFL has wrapped up in glittery packages are problems—big problems. And the thing about problems that we try to deny is that they do not go away. They just get more and more powerful, distorting, and dangerous. And that’s one of the reasons you must be having some long days lately.
I am a feminist and an advocate for women, especially women who are survivors of sexual abuse and assault. You would probably assume that I would join in with the group of people calling for you to be replaced. Actually, I think you should keep your job. And I think it is important that you do because I am an advocate for women. You are holding a mirror up to the country about its own failures around domestic and sexual violence. From our justice systems, to our churches, to university campuses, to community reactions, to every institution in between, “getting it right” when it comes to domestic and sexual violence is an uncommon occurrence.
I also disagree with what lots of leaders from women’s groups are saying right now. Like Terry O’Neill, President of NOW, who says “the NFL has lost its way.”
On the contrary, I don’t think the NFL has lost its way. What Ray Rice showed us is the NFL’s way. And when those ways are laid bare for the whole world to see, people are horrified and they want someone to pay. As someone who had intimate proximity to the NFL for twelve years, I see Rice’s case (and others like it) flowing quite effortlessly from the culture that defines the NFL. And, I argue in my new book on big-time sports, that culture holds a mirror up to American culture and reflects back some of our most tenacious distortions.
Violence against women flows out of the gender caricatures that the NFL feeds on every day—caricatures of both masculinity and femininity. The NFL is a male-dominated enclave, and any power held by women is sparse and insignificant. We were with the Bears and deeply respect Virginia McCaskey. And we were with the Raiders while Amy Trask served as team president. These women learned to operate and accommodate; they learned to conform and to sometimes transgress in very constrained spaces. Mrs. McCaskey, for instance, has never allowed the Bears to have cheerleaders. She told me once, “That’s not a part of football.” And Amy Trask, fully credentialed for the job of team President, held that prominent position with the Raiders because Al Davis was a rebel. And even with Al Davis’ bold boundary crossing on many issues, team policy said that I could not step foot in my husband’s office while he coached for the Raiders because of my gender.
Despite the prominent spaces these two women occupied, the NFL does not allow for women’s power to substantively disrupt the culture that gives rise to violence against women.
Domestic violence is rooted in women being commodities, objects, and secondary to men. Domestic violence is about power, dominance, and cutting off communities and relationships. Domestic violence is about secrecy and making everything seem ok on the outside. Domestic violence is about cycles of abuse and reconciliation between an abuser and the abused. These are the habits we learn from the models of power that get rewarded many times in American culture, and they get rewarded almost all the time in an organization like the NFL.
The NFL is all about hierarchies and concentrations of power based on extreme stereotypes of masculinity. Women are marginal. Women are decorations. Women are even a problem, a distraction, something that diminishes the enterprise of professional football. These are subtle and tenacious habits. And the organization you lead is a vortex of force that helps keep these patterns firmly entrenched in the way the football business works.
I hope you keep your job, Mr. Goodell, because I think you are on a steep learning curve right now. And many institutions in the country need to accompany you in that learning. The jarring experience you are having these days might make you look twice at some of the things you have taken for granted or even seen as a virtue in your line of work.
I invite you to start as close to home as you can with the courage to question your own unconscious assent to sexism and abuses of power.
• How do you share your power with women in your every day life? Or with anyone who comes from a different life experience and perspective than you do?
• How many women have a voice at the table when you are making the most important decisions of your day? How do you make space for those voices to be truly heard?
• And how does the NFL prop up caricatures of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman that exacerbate power imbalances? How do these same caricatures encourage the diminishment of women?
• What would it mean to explore these questions about gender and power not as a marketing strategy, but because you and your co-workers have a real commitment to getting this whole “we’re against domestic violence” thing right?
I am stating the obvious when I say that things are changing rapidly in the football world. There is pressure coming from all sorts of angles—it is starting to look and feel like an all out blitz. Concussions, bullying in the locker room, racism, and violence against women are creating disequilibrium for the NFL—an organization that has pretty much prided itself in being bullet proof. I hope you keep your job because I think you have the power to do some truly revolutionary work not just for the NFL, but also for American culture as a whole. America is watching. And many Americans who love football will follow your lead.
This is a moment of truth for this powerful institution of American culture. What a privilege that you have a chance to lead the way. You’ll be in my prayers.
The Rev. Marcia Mount Shoop, PhD
36 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Roger Goodell from a former NFL wife and an abuse survivor”
Good word, Marcia.
Thanks for reading and for commenting, Guy.
Thanks for this, Marcia. I have been overwhelmed by all of the chatter and haven’t been able to sift through. When I saw this post on FB from Betty Berghaus, I knew it would be the one to read…
Thank you, Ann. I appreciate you reading it and taking the time to comment. It has been overwhelming, and not easy to sift through. Glad you took the time to read.
Thanks Marcia, excellent article. I always appreciate your thoughts and wisdom!
Thank you, Emily. I am thankful to hear from you!
Very good and powerful! So glad I discovered you today! Now following!
Thank you for reading, commenting, and following. I hope you will keep reading and commenting!
Hi Marcia – thank you for your restrained comments and your unique perspective. I only hope that Mr. Goodell reads your comments and thinks about them long and hard. Then, that he understands your comments and takes them to heart, and begins to implement changes that benefit not only the NFL but ripples over into society at large. Blessings to you and John and the kids.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I am praying for deep change for American culture at large–and that the NFL can be a partner in that change, not a hindrance. Thanks so much again for commenting.
Marcia, honored to be your friend, always, because you speak truth unflinchingly and relentlessly. I believe as you do:
“The NFL is all about hierarchies and concentrations of power based on extreme stereotypes of masculinity. Women are marginal. Women are decorations. Women are even a problem, a distraction, something that diminishes the enterprise of professional football. These are subtle and tenacious habits. And the organization you lead is a vortex of force that helps keep these patterns firmly entrenched in the way the football business works.”
How do we help a male tradition find its way toward healthy, honest expression of strength and competition–the best of sports, and the best of masculinity? I think in the ways you do, by asking the tough questions and asking with compassion that our leaders step up.
Thank you, Lyn. I am thankful you took the time to comment. I am also thankful for your affirmation. Prayers that all of us can join in the tough conversations so that some of the most tenacious blind-spots can come into focus. I will keep writing and talking and asking and praying–I know you will, too!
I agree with what u say but 1 question the nobody ever answers is if women want 100% equal rights how come no body agrues that women don’t have to sign up to get drafted for War at 18. We haven’t have a Draft in my life time (30 years). This is not yo start an argument but no one ever answers this when I ask and I see you have been answering other/thanking for their support (Respect no many people do)
Thanks so much for reading and for commenting. Your question is certainly one that has been debated for a long, long time. I would argue that many people have said women should have 100% equal rights and be included in something like the draft. While the conversation about domestic violence is a different one than the one about equal rights and women’s military service, they are definitely connected. I wonder what you might suggest are the reasons the registration for the draft at age 18 does not mandate that women also register? I would welcome your thoughts.
Thanks again for commenting.
I feel it is because men feel the need we should be in charge. ( right or wrong). I have always felt women can lead just as well as men My dad was in Navy 21 years. I feel more strongly that the Draft should be optional in less in is must needed. I think guys feel women are to sensitive to pull the trigger but now that don’t ask don’t tell is dropped the argument should be dropped
Thanks for telling me more about your thoughts, Joe. You have some good insights. One of the things you are pointing toward is that all women are not alike. There are some women who would be better fit for combat than some men. And vice versa. To disqualify someone for military service based on gender doesn’t hold water much anymore. Thanks again for being in conversation with me.
Please note that it largely hasn’t been women who have blocked women from any type of military service.
These guys always bring up “but why aren’t women drafted” without doing any due diligence on who has been blocking that all this time.
Thanks Marcia, for an interesting blog post.
It is hard for me to directly link your paragraph about the NFL culture and violence against women. It feels foreign to me (I am a European, white male) that you would not be allowed on your husbands office for instance. But I take your word for it and whether or not Ray Rice “represents” the NFL culture or not, it just should not happen.
Your blog also makes me think about myself. And just thinking about it for a few minutes may spark a thought or two in my mind where I can tell myself that some of the things I say, think, and do can be interpreted as or are hurting other people. And that is NEVER acceptable.
Thank you for reading and for commenting. And, most of all, thank you for taking my words to heart and opening yourself up to self-reflection and noticing things. Those practices go along way in the intentionality and work required to surface and shift cultural norms that are harmful.
The connections that that you mention as hard to trace are joined by the common thread of power. Domestic violence and sexual violence are about power.
Thank you, again, for reading, commenting, and reflecting.
Thanks, Marcia for standing up for women in all walks of life.
Thanks so much, Coach, for reading and commenting. Your affirmations mean the world to me!
I cannot tell you how much I appreciate this post.
I’ve felt terribly inarticulate since this story first broke in the news. It’s only gotten worse as things continue to escalate with each new revelation, reaction, and misstep by most everyone involved. The problem is that while the story has always been important beyond just the horrible incident exposed by a few hotel-casino security cameras, the overriding commentary has failed to see past those grainy videos. All we have room for is outrage. We’re mired in our thirst for retribution. But I can’t help wondering if it’s coming at a cost of something greater.
Even now, we’re preoccupied with the question of whether the NFL ever reviewed the second security video. Are they lying when they say they never saw those images from inside the elevator? Did they receive a copy of the video as reported? If so, who watched it? If not, how could that possibly be? Why didn’t they try harder to secure it? Let’s do an investigation of the NFL’s investigation! And so it goes.
Frankly, I’m inclined to think a few women’s shelters could make a lot better use of the money that’s going to be spent on that independent investigator. Or programs that are designed to raise awareness within organizations like the NFL. Or any number of other things designed to effect systemic and/or cultural change that might actually reduce this blight on our society.
But that won’t quell our outrage. It’s not swift. It’s not definitive. It doesn’t pique our self-righteous desires. We want. No, we need our pound of flesh. It makes us feel in control. Self-satisfied. Powerful. Wait a second. Is there a larger metaphor developing here? (I didn’t intend it so.)
Unfortunately, punishment isn’t usually the best catalyst for large scale change. It’s good for instilling fear. I’ll grant that. And fear certainly motivates behavior. But fear often results in a lot of poor choices, too. Especially when it comes to policy.
I have no strong opinion over whether or not the NFL commissioner should keep his job. As has been true from the beginning, I suspect there is still more to the story. That said, I’m generally not one for schadenfreude, so I appreciate your approach. I just hope your readers don’t get stuck on this point. Your letter provides invaluable perspective and offers some important suggestions regarding the role the league can play in the larger struggle against domestic violence. I’m more interested in whether the NFL treats this as an opportunity to address some of the questions you raise. The league can fire and replace 10 commissioners, but it won’t mean a thing if this discussion, and our behavior, remains where it is today.
Thank you for taking the time to read and to add your voice to the conversation. Your observations are important and insightful. I appreciate especially your point about all the red herrings out there now about this case about the video tape and the internal investigation. These all provide rabbit trails for people to follow and feel like they are doing something. Demonizing individuals and firing people and casting people out are the preferred modes of problem solving often times in big-time sports (I hope you will read my new books that looks at these dynamics from several different angles).
I would add that the other piece that often happens, and we certainly see it in this case, is all the powerful men both inside and outside the sports world who are coming out to show how much they are against domestic violence with tough talk. Steve Spurrier, for instance, said he would cut a player in a heart beat. He is suggesting here that he would somehow not be mired down in the same murkiness that seems to hold the rest of American society captive in most cases of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Or then there Joe Biden’s comment that only a “coward” hits a woman. Again, to some how distance himself and his understanding of masculinity from the likes of Ray Rice, he flexes his morality muscles in a way that is supposed to make us feel better, safer. These distancing comments do very little to address the root causes and actually serve to mask them a lot of the time. I wish I heard someone talking about what domestic violence is really about–power, and the way it is used and abused in all sorts of institutions and intimate relationships.
I am praying that the NFL will model a true humility and willingness to look at themselves. That could inspire us beyond measure.
Thanks again for reading and for commenting.
Funding women’s shelters instead of investigating domestic violence directly is like sending an ambulance to the bottom of a cliff instead of building a fence at the top.
No amount of funding women’s shelters will end domestic violence. Delivering properly proportional consequences consistently to abusers, however, will.
I’m all for funding DV shelters. But not at the cost of tackling the problem directly. Our failure to confront the problem is why we need women’s shelters in the first place.
Powerful post Marcia! I’ve actually been thinking for the last several days on how I could add a constructive comment to this issue in the social media world. The “red herring” that I keep hearing from both men and women that troubles me the most is the question that turns into an accusation on the victim. I’m disturbed at how so many immediately jump to the line of questioning about how and why the victim stays in the relationship. Those questions and comments far too often devolve into accusations that sound like something is wrong with the women who are the victims of this abuse. This troubles me greatly and I’d like to discover a way to turn that thinking around. When this story broke I immediately thought if you and knew you would eventually post something that is thought provoking and right on target. Thank you for your unflinching dedication to speaking the truth!
Thank you for your comments and affirmations.
The accusations about women in abusive relationships are very difficult to hear. The whole conversation is retraumatizing in lots of ways. The shame and the guilt are already there when there is violence in an intimate relationship. And then to have society say “it’s your fault” or “you should just leave” is another erasure of one’s power and agency and experience.
One of the things that can help turn this conversation around is for people to deepen their understanding of trauma and how it works. PTSD is a powerful and deeply embodied dynamic that translates into lots of behaviors that can be mystifying for people looking in from the outside. The body really switches into another gear–a survival gear.
Sometimes staying in a relationship is easier than leaving. And often times leaving can be deadly. In my experience, the stalking and threats lasted for years after I left the relationship. Every time I read a story in the news of a woman being killed by her estranged boyfriend or husband, my blood runs cold. I know that could have been me.
It took me years to not beat myself up for staying, for getting into the relationship in the first place, for not getting help sooner. It has taken me a lot of work to give myself the compassion I needed back then–that I did the best I could and that I did what I needed to do to survive. I also have learned that my body shut down in lots of ways. And there are many decisions I made that I realize now were made with a fraction of myself engaged in what was going on.
I am thankful to be on a healing path. And speaking the truth is a part of that path for me. It sure helps to have long-time, faithful, and loving friends like you. Thank you!
Marcia, thank you for being willing to a bold voice about disparity. I have seen it on the surface but you are helping me learn more deeply what some of the real issues are in big-time sports. As a Christian and an author, I have much to learn about how to celebrate the good that can come through competitive games without going to the extreme to where it is detrimental to society. To that end I am grateful for your book and your blogs. Again, thank you. And Boiler Up! Hammer Down!
Purdue Engineering 1969
Thank you for reading and for commenting. I am happy to her you have read my book. There is much to talk about these days in the world of sports! I hope you will keep reading and sharing your thoughts here. I would love to hear more about your take on things.
Baseball is what we were. Football is what we have become. ~Mary McGrory
Be careful not to link female equality in the workplace with domestic violence in the home…..the first is a cultural response in the board room….the latter is a cultural response in society. Gender equality in the workplace has improved with time, while violence in the home has become all too common place. The incident of domestic assaults by professional football players is but a public display of the violence played out every day across America against faceless nameless victims….the spot light of the NFL and the presence of a video gave this incident a face and a name… sure the NFL can and should do better, but this crime is not a reflection of their sport, but a very public display of the general decline of civility within a culture which deems so many things as disposable.
Thanks for the letter as it made me pause to consider what an NFL run by Condoleeza Rice rather than Roger Goodell would look like…. Also, I was reminded to buy your book….. Best to John.
It is always a great blessing to hear from you! Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, too.
I would like to hear more about the distinction you are making between the culture that gives rise to sexism and the culture that gives rise to violence against women. I do not see the same distinction, but instead see them as on a continuum that is all about power–power over, domination. And with those ways of using and abusing power come certain caricatured versions of masculinity and femininity. I do not think we can draw stark lines between the power that props up masculinity in male-dominated workplaces and the power that fuels the enforcement of a diminutive status for women, sometimes enforced by violence. While I agree with you that our culture sees far too many things as disposable, I do not see football as something independent of our culture. Football is a uniquely American sport. And if holds a mirror up to us about ourselves–reflecting both our better angels and our most stealthy demons.
I would love to hear your thoughts once you have had a chance to read my book. So much of what you have raised here connects with the things I explore in the book. And, of course, you will be very interested in the chapters in which our experience at UNC is a main focus.
Thanks again for commenting, Buddy. I hope all is well with you.
In many respects we are saying the same things…my point is that the Ray Rice incident is played out every day….I represent both perpetrators and victims of domestic violence and see how a culture of violence and indifference to others destroys the family unit….Pro Football just reflects what is happening in many homes…. my criticism is that a culture of indifference to the individual manifested by domestic violence is not necessarily gender discriminatory as I have seen this violence cross gender lines many times…furthermore I think we should never minimize violence in the family by confusing it with discrimination in the business world….both are wrong, but the tragedy of the failure of women to break the glass ceiling pales in comparison to the plight of a victim of domestic violence and its effect on the family and society.
I have read the chapters in your book about UNC…. your dissection of the “Carolina Way” is spot on….the subtle and overt racism involved in the “recent unpleasantness” at UNC is an issue that no one wants to consider….the heart of which is related to the appearance that there is an institutional feeling that football players are somehow unworthy of inclusion in the greater University…that their opportunity to obtain a meaningful degree is beyond the capacity of the University to deliver….and that the preserving of the “integrity” of the University is more important than the individual right by students who are also athletes. I also agree that if players were afforded rights as an individual rather than to have been considered commodities of the institution, they would had been given advocates early in the process and the outcome to the players and to the University would have been different.
Will have to spend more time in your book to grasp the many theological points you raise but in all of this I know that among this and in all we do, we remain not on the periphery but in the center of God’s eye.
May Touchdowns for Jesus and the Boilermakers come to you and John each and every Saturday of this season
As always, your willingness to be a conversation is a great gift to me. Thank you!
I agree that we resonate on many things. I would like to have space to talk more with you about how I understand patriarchy–both its structural and systemic tenacity and its banal and unconscious subtlety. That is the piece that connects the way American culture understand and performs gender and violence in intimate relationships. I totally agree with you that the NFL simply is reflecting what is all to common in our culture at large.
Thank you for reading my book. I appreciate the insight you add to my use of race when it comes to the “Carolina Way.” You are so right about the ways (many times unconscious) that football players are cast as interlopers to the Carolina community. It became painfully clear in the way the whole investigation played out. That reality was one of the things that made writing this book feel like a moral imperative to me.
It is wonderful to hear from you. I hope I will again soon!
This needs to be read on every sports talk show on the air right now! This so expresses what I wish I could verbalize as I have been frustrated while listening to another societal organism that struggles to understand this topic, the press, specifically the sports press. It has been far too easy to switch the focus from abuse to who know what when. It is much more comfortable to talk about conspiracy then what happened in that elevator and in way too many “homes” in this country, as if the second video was needed to know what happened.
Having no direct experience with abuse, I was shaken to the core 6 years ago when I switched career gears and joined a domestic violence agency in Lake County, Illinois. The training I received was earth-shaking in that I couldn’t believe this wasn’t more reported or talked about in the media or churches or other places where I spent my time. That it takes yet another high-profile sports related domestic violence case to bring abuse to the front pages, let alone any page is frustrating, but hopefully the NFL takes this chance to be a positive, proactive organization on this issue!
Thanks so much for reading and for commenting. Your story is a perfect example of how important face to face relationships are on issues like domestic violence. You gained proximity to the complicated reality through your work. That gave you a whole different framework to understand something that is hard to fathom from a distance. And once the veil is lifted, we can look around and more clearly see how the harm is repeated again and again through silencing and denial in the larger culture.
I, like you, pray that the NFL and American culture in general can finally recognize and fully embrace the healing opportunity in this situation. I hope you will keep making your voice heard in it all!
What do you think should be done in the justice system to address violence rather than categorize the criminal offense to domestic violence because a person was threatened or harmed by an intimate partner? I am not convinced that sexism has a role in the way victims of violent crime are treated. From my experience, we are further victimized by the system because we are victims of crime and the system does not advocate in our interests. Our rights are unenforceable and unequal to those of the defendants. Until victims have equal rights, and standing in the criminal justice process, whether we are male or female, none of us will be treated with the respect to which we are entitled and that is to seek justice for the crime we suffered–regardless of “who” that individual may be.
Thank you for reading and for commenting. I appreciate you sharing some of your insights and your important questions. I hope I am following the heart of your question. It sounds like you are asking about what can be done about the way the criminal justice system addresses domestic violence. And you are asserting that the rights of victims are not equal to the rights of defendants–regardless of gender.
Statistics suggest that somewhere around 85% of domestic violence cases involve a female victim and male perpetrator. And even in cases where the victim is male, the perpetrator is almost always male. So, whether we can parse out where sexism is at work in the way court decisions are playing out, we can say that there is a clearly gender-based tendency for women to bear the brunt of intimate partner violence.
I agree that our justice system is poorly equipped to deal with the realities of sexualized violence and other forms of domestic violence. Our system is grounded in the concept of rights, of reliable testimony, and the “reasonable doubt” standard of proof and argument. All of these metrics break down when we look at the effects of sexualized violence and domestic abuse. Cases of domestic violence are much less likely to result in conviction than cases of lesser violence against a stranger. And sexual violence almost never results in any kind of justice–because it is the most underreported crime there is, and when it is reported victims are often encouraged not to pursue charges because their stories won’t “hold up in court.”
Pursuing protection and justice through our legal and law enforcement systems is often retraumatizing for victims and survivors. There are lots of reasons for the prevalence of this kind of experience. In my first book, Let the Bones Dance, I address some of these issues in my chapter on rape. While equal rights for victims may improve things on some level, I do not think our justice system and law enforcement will become more effective in any profound sense until they have a better understanding of trauma and its effects.
I hope you’ll tell me more about your question if I have not addressed it. Thank you again for commenting.