Joe’s Take: The NFL and its women problem … 9/18/14

bio-pic-newIn the turbulent aftermath of Ray Rice’s brutal punch at Atlantic City’s Revel casino I don’t know wether NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will still be drawing his pay of $35 or $40 million bucks a year by the time you read this. In the NFL as in politics, one PR disaster can hurt you, but a string of them is deadly. Given the culture of the NFL, sudden light being thrown into its darker corners will probably reveal much we didn’t realize.

None of that will initially bother the billionaires who own the teams and control the NFL. But in the long run, Goodell – and Ray Rice’s – fate will depend on whether America’s women are mad enough about off-the-field domestic violence to boycott the sponsors who bring in the big bucks. Sports Business Journal reported in 2012 a sharp increase in the number of NFL viewers who correctly identified such sponsors as Marriott, Gatorade, Ford, GM, Verizon and Bud Light. Tie that to press reports that 45% of the NFL viewers are women and you see the problem, especially these days when strong and sophisticated advocacy of women’s rights is a major factor. Try to imagine a President Hillary Clinton or President Kelly Ayotte hosting the Superbowl winners at the White House should guys like Ray Rice show up with bloody knuckles. The NFL and its sponsors, vendors, executives and players have a multi-billion dollar industry to look after so I think they’ll pay whatever it costs to get Goodell out the door.

Speaking as a former municipal judge who had to issue a good many domestic violence restraining orders while on the judicial bench, I’d have to say good riddance. It’s long past time the NFL realized the harm its “see no evil” practices does in the context of its primary mission of selling male violence to the masses. We all want our team to pound the other guys into the ground, but after the final whistle blows a few guys can’t find a reliable off switch to suppress the testosterone and the adrenaline your trainers and coaches spent weeks and months revving up.

As for the NFL and its culture, does anybody believe this is the first time they learned how their players behave? I don’t. What the NFL needs to do is spend serious money paying experts to educate its players in anger management.

Why did his sweetheart put up with it and marry him right after? You figure it out. Start with dividing $40 million bucks in half, and add your lawyer’s fees and whatever a future divorce judge might tack on as damages. Then give due weight to her undying love, to her hopes for her man, to her devastating disappointment at the tragedy of it all, and to her remembering the story about killing the goose who lays the golden eggs.

Do I sound cynical? Let me tell you the story of a battered woman who came before me two or three times as victim of her man’s drunken attacks. I could and did order him out of the house and to stay away for a period of ten days. Each time I urged her go to the Superior Court and make that order permanent. She never did. She had small children and needed his paycheck. When she came to me a third time, I urged her once again to seek a permanent restraining order. This time she promised to do it. I asked her if she was sure.

“You’re darn right I’m sure, Judge,” she said. “After his last time I started my own cleaning business. This year I made $50,000 and I don’t have to put up with his f’ng crap any more!” That’s the home truth of the domestic violence world.

Has Mrs. Rice truly forgiven her new husband? Can any woman forgive the violent man she loves? They can and they do. A cop whose judgment I respected called me one night to come to City Hall. He said he had an odd case and didn’t know what to do. I got dressed and went down. It was an Atlantic City taxi driver who had been cut on the face by his enraged wife, who was now tenderly checking his bandaged face. The argument started when he belted her and ended with her going after him with a razor blade. They had no kids; both made good money. But try as he might, the officer couldn’t persuade either to sign complaints or seek a restraining order. Neither could I and, truth be told, I think they really did love each other.

If it were my call, I’d suspend Rice for the year; reconsider letting him save his future after that year only on the condition both he and Mrs. Rice take and complete high-quality anger management counselling and have no further physical abuse.

© 2014 Joseph T. Wilkins

Joe’s Take: Lessons from mastectomies … 9/11/14

“Don’t touch those breasts, boys!” Father McDonald thundered to our freshman prayer assembly at Holy Spirit High School in the days when it was still on Massachusetts Avenue in Atlantic City. “They’re for the babies!”

The girls blushed furiously. The boys choked back giggles, snickers and hoots of laughter. For weeks afterward we greeted each other in the gym and the hallways with “Don’t touch those breasts, boys!” I think the girls would cheerfully have shoved us down the stairs. “Breast” was not a word openly used in those sensitive years, especially among highly suggestible teenage boys who had those very items on their minds and the girls who knew full well what we were thinking and hoping.

Only medical doctors commonly used the word “breast.” All too soon it seemed to be permanently welded to the word “cancer”, a descriptive phrase that sobered us as we became lovers, husbands, fathers and grandfathers.

In time we learned the female breast plays a more serious role in life. We learned about the wonders of breast feeding by watching our baby sons and daughters nuzzle up to the stuff of life. As our daughters grew we learned how vital the development of their breasts was to their self-image and confidence and watched with mature awe the cycle of life renewed as they produced the next generation of babies who came along gurgling and suckling and growing fat on their mother’s milk, secure in the greatest love of all.

We watched, too, as the fashion dictators and Hollywood directors sculpted the female figure as they wished, sometimes making women’s breasts a caricature of overdevelopment that enriched countless magazine publishers and plastic surgeons, other times glorifying slenderness and slim bust-lines, at either extreme treating the configuration of a woman’s body as a profit center. Silicone implants and breast reduction surgery made breast sizes and shapes optional; something designed and made-to-order.

We men took a long time to learn the fundamental dangers our women were encountering. Breast cancer was long a taboo subject men were not invited to explore. Few women would discuss cancer of any type affecting the female organs. Almost none would admit they had it; even fewer would talk about it with their menfolk. Only in recent years has that changed. Thanks to Gilda Radner and others like her, women’s cancer was finally brought into the open and discussed in the family circles. Only then did the importance of mammograms and mastectomies and family support in diagnosing and fighting breast cancers become widely known.

In my family we’ve gone through it three times now and with lots of women in the extended family the unhappy odds are that we’ll probably go through it again. Everyone is now alert to the importance of regular checkups.

There are lessons we men can learn from the experience; not the least of which is the amazing strength of the bonds that unite women to each other. Mothers and daughters and sisters and aunts and cousins rally around in ways both open and subtle that we men hardly understand. We tend to avoid telling each other if we get bad news from the doctors. Women, on the other hand, more often go the distance when one of theirs is down. They drive each other to the doctor’s and to the imaging centers; they show up at the hospitals and share information about wigs and chemo-brain and reconstructive surgery and wardrobe changes and whether to get it over with and undergo a double-mastectomy rather than a single; they babysit where it’s necessary and make sure the sheets are changed and the pillows fluffed up and the house ready for the homecoming; they put cheery flowers and good-smelling cookies in all the right spots; they make sure nap-times are kept quiet and good thoughts given a chance to soothe the soul.

There are dangers in generalizing about such things. I’ve known men who had those same gracious instincts, and women who didn’t. But by and large, the sisterhood sets a good example. We guys would do well to develop the mindset of mutual support the women seem to share instinctively.

© 2014 Joseph T. Wilkins