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Deflategate: What Tom Brady’s Punishment Says About the NFL’s Views on Violence Against Women

Deflategate: What Tom Brady’s Punishment Says About the NFL’s Views on Violence Against Women

BY Adele Kimmel
Senior Attorney

What’s more deflated: the footballs in the AFC Championship game between the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, or the NFL’s punishment for domestic violence? I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t the footballs.

The NFL gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady a four-game suspension for his role in flouting a rule on ball inflation and then lying about it. As reported in The Washington Post, the NFL said Brady was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the integrity” of the league.  But when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocked his then-fiancée unconscious, the NFL’s initial punishment (before videotape of the incident was publicized) was a two-game suspension.

Can someone please explain to me how tampering with a football is more “detrimental to the integrity of the league” than knocking a woman unconscious?

Within minutes of the NFL’s announcement on Monday, Twitter was buzzing with outrage over the severity of Brady’s punishment in comparison to Rice’s.  But much of the outrage came from some sports fans and columnists who think this shows Brady was punished too harshly. 

Say what?

Thankfully, I found sanity in the tweets of others who thought Brady’s punishment shows that the NFL doesn’t punish players’ violence against women severely enough.

I’m a feminist and a football fan. These are not mutually exclusive.

As an attorney at Public Justice, I represent student survivors of sexual violence in lawsuits against the institutions and officials who fail to protect them. Far too often, schools turn a blind eye to sexual violence, allowing serial perpetrators to violate girls and women with impunity.

As a kid, I grew up watching football with my dad. I managed my high school’s football team and kept track of the stats. I even played quarterback on my neighborhood’s team until I got sidelined by injuries from boys who were much bigger than my scrawny 12-year-old frame could handle.

So I love the game. But I am sickened by the misogynist message the NFL sends when it punishes players more harshly for deflating a football than beating a woman. And the NFL’s tone-deafness to the message it’s sending makes matters even worse.

According to the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes (NCAVA), a three-year study shows that while male student-athletes comprise 3.3% of the population, they represent 19% of sexual assault perpetrators and 35% of domestic violence perpetrators. The NCAVA also reports that one in three college sexual assaults is committed by an athlete.

Given that college athletes appear to commit a disproportionate amount of the violence against women, how can the NFL be so tone-deaf to the inevitable comparisons between its punishments for Brady and Rice?

The NFL needs to punish players more severely for violence against women. Perhaps what the NFL really needs is more women in management to help it do this.

Right now, the NFL just doesn’t get it. This is even is more deflating than any game ball.

Photo via KristyR929 on Flickr