I love football. Love it. It is my biggest distraction from the stress of my daily life, it is my Sunday, and in October, when two of my dearest friends were getting married in a wedding including a full Mass on a Sunday, I was checking scores on my phone.
Tonight is a rivalry game that is traditionally one of my favorites. Steelers versus Ravens. I am not a fan of either team. I am a Patriots fan, and while everyone wants to hate us, Myra Kraft used to make Bob Kraft get rid of any player who was even accused of assaulting a woman in any way. This, somehow, has always let me feel like I could be a fan of my team and the sport without being culpable for the NFL's massive failings toward women. Sure, other teams kept rapists and domestic abusers on the payroll, but *my* team cut Christian Peter when it turned out he assaulted his pregnant girlfriend.* Because in this league, that is something to be lauded, not expected. I'm going to pretend that it's not of note that Christian Peter went on to do nothing in the league. They would have cut him anyway, right?
I love defensive football. Perhaps it is my reptilian brain taking over, enjoying watching men flatten each other. Perhaps it is that I have always gravitated toward the less appreciated players, and in the NFL these days, offense is king. Perhaps I am just desperate to not be seen as one of "those girls" who pretends to be into a sport and can't name anyone besides the star QB. For the record, I own five Patriots jerseys. Not one has a 12 on the back. Because even here, I'm always defending my fandom. I'm always trying to prove that I know a read option when I see one, and when I get mad because I saw a hold, there actually was one.
The Steelers and the Ravens... for football fans, that is always a show. In the same division, they play each other at least twice a year. When they play each other in the playoffs, magic happens. Magic in the form of possible lasting brain damage and definite physical injury yes, but cognitive dissonance was always my refuge. These men chose this, yes? Most of them, if given the choice between their current lives and a hypothetical football free life would choose this. That let me watch. That let me pretend I wasn't rooting for brain damage.
This year has reached a breaking point for me. Tonight, we are being asked to watch a game between Ben Roethlisberger, who two different women accused of rape, and the Baltimore Ravens. The team that protected noted domestic abuser Ray Rice. The team that asked Janay Rice to apologize for "her part" in getting knocked out by her fiancé, as if there was anything she could have done to deserve that. The team that refused to cut Ray Rice, even after their head coach asked them to. The team whose fans stood up and cheered for Rice when he took the field at training camp. Of course, when faced with the violent, visual truth, many changed their tune. Before, all they saw was Ray dragging Janay out of an elevator. Who knows, they asked, what actually happened in there? We don't know, let's not judge, dude scores touchdowns.**
So where does this leave us fans who want to watch what is traditionally one of the most fun games of the year, but can't bring ourselves to root for either team? Who can't root for rapists or domestic abusers? Who can't choose between these two evils and have no idea what to do?
We recognize that the entire NFL is responsible here. We recognize that Roger Goodell is a liar who protects domestic abusers and rapists. We recognize that he protects racist players and racist mascots, and sure, maybe we'll even watch the game, and find someone to root for. We appreciate the players who refuse to be complicit in the amorality of the league.
But we don't give them money. We don't allow our cognitive dissonance to separate our enjoyment of the sport from our abhorrence of the league's evils. We stop pretending it's not happening.
*ESPN piece on the amazing Myra here, for reference.
**I am well aware that many Ravens fans immediately disavowed him after the first reports of his horrific abuse came out. I also know this happened.