I Care as Much About Football as the NFL Cares About Women
But I do really like "Friday Night Lights."
Photo by Natalia Mantini
I am not a football fan. Like other institutions that overtly exclude women from their highest and most revered ranks, it isn't worthy of my time. And it's boring. So while my boyfriend was watching a game at the start of this season, I was busy doing more interesting things on my phone, not even looking at the television screen, when I sarcastically asked, "How many rapists are on that field right now?"
"Well, actually, like three—that I know of," he answered.
That's when I started paying attention.
The next day, Broadly began a months-long research project, collecting hundreds of pages of police reports and court documents to compile allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence, and violence against women that have been made against NFL players. What we learned was, quite frankly, shocking. And I'm not just talking about the details of the allegations, which are often stomach-turning. I'm talking about how common these allegations are and how frequently players get arrested and charged with committing violent crimes against women. Sexual assault and domestic violence are so prevalent in association with the NFL that these crimes have become normalized—an accepted reality.
Broadly is reporting on how these allegations affect women.
This is not OK. So we decided to present these stories to a different audience, one that might not follow football. Because although these incidents of alleged off-field misconduct are and have been covered in sports publications, it's apparently not enough. Sports journalists are tasked—by the very nature of their occupation—with reporting on how the allegations affect the sport.
Broadly is reporting on how these allegations affect women. And we're not burdened with giving a fuck about the sport.
Professional football is a $10 billion industry that not only involves its fans and its players, but is also woven into the fabric of American culture—through higher education, through brands and endorsement deals, through legalized gambling, through video games, through romantic relationships with Kardashians and Housewives. Football's influence cannot be overstated.
The NFL has a Personal Conduct Policy (PCP) designed to acknowledge this fact. According to the PCP, "It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful."
This language suggests that formal accusations of sexual assault or physical assault are enough to pose a player's violation of the policy and thus receive a mandatory punishment. However, the NFL approaches and deals with these allegations in a way that makes them seem more like PR problems than systemic ones. Reviewing how these situations are handled, it would appear that many people have an interest—often rooted in money, fandom, or both—in protecting players instead of victims.
Case in point: George McCaskey, the current chairman of the Chicago Bears and a member of the league's Conduct Committee. In an interview in March 2015, he justified the team's recent signing of Ray McDonald by saying, "An alleged victim, I think—much like anybody else who has a bias in this situation—there's a certain amount of discounting in what they have to say. But our personnel department had done its work looking into the background and the incidents."
At the time, McDonald was under investigation for sexual assault and had an arrest record for domestic violence. He was arrested two months after signing with the Bears, in May 2015, after he allegedly assaulted the mother of his child while she was holding their infant. He was indicted in August 2015 for the sexual assault, which the Bears' personnel had "cleared" in a background check.
It's very clear to some of us watching from the sidelines—which, incidentally, is where women have largely been relegated by the NFL—that this shit is so fucked up.
It's not like McCaskey is an outlier when it comes to "discounting" victims. The Dallas Cowboys still host a page on its website that minimizes the domestic violence charges against Greg Hardy. A common narrative involving women who've come forward after being physically or sexually assaulted by a player is that she's a lying gold digger looking for attention. Try a Google search of "NFL" and "second chance." It's absurd.
It's very clear to some of us watching from the sidelines—which, incidentally, is where women have largely been relegated by the NFL—that this shit is so fucked up. There have been studies showing that NFL players are arrested for violent crimes at rates above the national average. Why is it even fucking debatable?
In order to underscore all of this, we've created a Rapey Roster: a compilation of NFL players who are currently on teams or are free agents and who have been accused of sexual assault or sexual misconduct. (Because the legal definition of rape doesn't address all the shitty ways that women are sexually demeaned, we use rapey as a blanket term that refers to sexually aggressive behavior that causes discomfort in others, indicates a lack of concern for or understanding of consent, and/or demonstrates qualities that make others feel sexually vulnerable or unsafe.)
Additionally, we've created a Domestic Violence/Violence Against Women Depth Chart: a compilation of NFL players who are currently on teams or are free agents and who have been accused of domestic violence or assaulting women.
A little bit about our process: We included free agents because history has shown—in cases like Adam "Pacman" Jones, Richie Incognito, Ray McDonald, and more—that players who have been suspended or released from teams for off-field conduct very often find a new home. The NFL even dedicates a page to the status of free agents and their talks with teams. We also included allegations from when players were in college, before being drafted into the league, since the NFL claims to do extensive background checks on prospects. (Just this year, however, Jameis Winston was picked first overall in the draft despite a very public rape allegation hanging over his head.)
We're watching. We may not be cheering from the bleachers, but we are keeping score.
We don't consider this list to be comprehensive; we've only included players who have had accusations made against them in police reports, incident reports, or civil complaints—statistics show that domestic assault and sexual assault often go unreported. (If you are a victim or have more information on an allegation made against a player, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
We encourage you to use our research as a jumping-off point. Read the backgrounds on the allegations made against these guys. Click on police reports. Go through court documents. (I suggest checking out Prince Shembo, Ben Roethlisberger, or Frostee Rucker.) Decide for yourself if they are holding themselves to a "higher standard."
More than anything, I want everyone to know this: We're watching. We may not be cheering from the bleachers, but we are keeping score.