Waiting for Goodell
I haven’t heard anything from Roger Goodell about my open letter to him concerning the NFL and domestic violence.
I know he’s been busy. Since I wrote my letter just a few days ago, more trouble has come his way with Adrian Peterson being charged with causing injury to a child 14 or younger in Texas.
The NFL has repeated its pattern of rethinking its original decision and then deciding to remove the player from NFL play in some form or fashion. The Vikings announced that they are reversing their decision to “let the legal process play out” (which they said they were originally going with because of their concern for due process) with Adrian Peterson’s case and are now placing him on the NFL’s “exempt list” (which they explain better reflects their concern for child welfare issues). This means Peterson will not participate in any team activities until his court case is resolved.
The firestorm is not subsiding for Goodell and the NFL.
Even the almighty NFL sponsors are weighing in now. Nike has pulled its Adrian Peterson jerseys from some of its stores (but you can still purchase them online).
And Anheuser-Busch issued a statement that they are “disappointed,” “increasingly concerned,” and “not yet satisfied “ by the NFL’s response to “behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code.”
The scramble for the moral high ground that follows the media explosion of a scandal often echoes with a good amount of hypocrisy mixed together with some good intentions and publicity concerns. And in true NFL fashion, even their scandals are a spectacle to behold. It’s down right biblical: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41).
Alcohol use and abuse is a factor the majority of the time in intimate partner violence—statistics tell us that in reported cases, 75% of intimate partner violence involves alcohol use and/or abuse.
And almost 40% of all reported sexual assaults included reported involvement of alcohol. That percentage goes up considerably when we look at contexts where excessive drinking behaviors are common, like college campuses.
And these statistics only reflect reported cases of sexual assault and intimate partner violence. These crimes are the most underreported crimes there are. In fact, only about one fifth of all rapes are reported and only about one half of all cases of stalking by an intimate partners are reported.
When it comes to child welfare issues, our American context suffers an equal amount of inadequacy. Our substantive and collective responses to things that hurt children like hunger, lack of access to quality medical care, parental unemployment, and substandard housing are woefully inadequate.
And we do not do a good job of protecting children from violence either. Children who grow up seeing violence are much more likely to reenact and repeat those patterns themselves. And children suffer profoundly in contexts of domestic abuse. Where women’s life circumstances include violence, poverty, and poor medical care, the well-being of and possibilities for healthy outcomes are radically diminished for children.
Nike has been struggling with child welfare issues for years now. And though they have taken many intentional steps to curtail child labor and unsafe working conditions in their overseas factories, there are still accusations that surface about inhumane treatment of workers and under-aged workers in Nike’s labor system.
There is plenty of culpability and dissatisfaction to go around when it comes to how our country responds to domestic and sexualized violence. That has been well established in the collective conversation these last few days. Now, with the Adrian Peterson case, we can add to that reality that the well-being and protection of children is another thing our country struggles to do well.
Violence in all its forms is a distorting, contorting force.
It ruptures relationships, communities, institutions, and cultures.
It sends us all into a diminished mode of operation in which we struggle to gain our footing.
Violence is a trauma that afflicts systems, societies, and souls.
We can all sit and wait for Roger Goodell to do something that makes us feel better, or something that makes us feel like there really is someone who knows how to make this stop. Or we can tell the truth about ourselves.
None of our American institutions, none of our cultural habits, none of our common ways of responding to domestic violence have disrupted its prevalence or its capacity to inflict radical harm. Violence, especially violence that comes from the hands of an intimate, inflicts wounds that we do not know how to heal as a nation.
Blaming Roger Goodell releases some collective tension, but it accomplishes very little. Demonizing Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson may make some people feel better about themselves, but the truth about these forms of violence lies in a much more shared space than we would like to admit.
What are we doing as a nation to tell ourselves the truth about the causes and conditions that give rise to violence?
What are we doing as a nation to cultivate more life-giving ways of being human?
If I ever do get to talk to Roger Goodell, I would tell him the best thing he could do for America right now is to describe for us how it feels to realize his own helplessness and incompetency in the face of this scourge. If he could help us all get real about what we don’t know how to do, we might be able to work together to figure out what we can do.