I don’t know anything about football, but I have a vague sense of what kinds of things TV sports anchors tend to discuss when a big game is about to start. And it usually doesn’t include toxic masculinity.
Yesterday, right before Ray Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, played the Pittsburgh Steelers, CBS anchor James Brown shared a few thoughts on the roots of intimate partner violence (IPV):
Two years ago I challenged the NFL community and all men to seriously confront the problem of domestic violence, especially coming on the heels of the murder-suicide of Kansas City Chiefs football player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. Yet, here we are again dealing with the same issue of violence against women.
Now let’s be clear, this problem is bigger than football. There has been, appropriately so, intense and widespread outrage following the release of the video showing what happened inside the elevator at the casino. But wouldn’t it be productive if this collective outrage, as my colleagues have said, could be channelled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women? And as they said, do something about it? Like an on-going education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about.
And it starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says, ‘you throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘you’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion. Women have been at the forefront in the domestic violence awareness and prevention arena. And whether Janay Rice considers herself a victim or not, millions of women in this country are.
Consider this: According to domestic violence experts, more than three women per day lose their lives at the hands of their partners. That means that since the night February 15th in Atlantic City [when the elevator incident occurred] more than 600 women have died.
So this is yet another call to men to stand up and take responsibility for their thoughts, their words, their deeds and as Deion [Sanders] says to give help or to get help, because our silence is deafening and deadly.
Ok, so I’m not going to wax on for paragraphs about James Brown the Hero of Domestic Violence. As Brown said, women have led anti-IPV work and I’m sick of throwing a parade for every man who mentions that maybe men should stop hitting women. Plus, CBS as a whole doesn’t seem to understand the problem: the network repeatedly played the video of Rice punching Janay Palmer and cut Rihanna from the show, dangerously conflating perpetrators and victims of IPV.
But, look, it’s pretty rad to hear a nuanced discussion of the ways language and conceptions of masculinity lead to violence during an NFL pregame show. That’s a testament to Brown, yes, but also to advocates who have mainstreamed what were once really out-there ideas about gendered harms.
Alexandra Brodsky is an editor at Feministing, a founding co-director of Know Your IX, and a student at Yale Law School.