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How to be a Feminist and Still Love Football

February 1, 2016

The excitement of the 50th Super Bowl matchup of Cam vs. Payton will most likely exceed last year’s record of 114 million viewers, which is almost half the population of the United States. Consider that a growing 45% of football fans are female. Add thousands of Super Bowl parties hosted around the country bring in even more female viewers, and it is possible that the number of women watching this event will exceed that of men.

 

Sounds like progress, until you learn that many domestic violence advocates argue that Super Bowl Sunday brings in a higher caller volume than any other time of year.

 

Roger Goodell, the current NFL commissioner has recently been tasked with saving the NFL’s image by drafting a new Personal Conduct Policy, and even hired domestic violence advisors as the Ray Rice case shook the league in 2015. The NFL has been busy to preserve its image as an American pastime as it continues to encounter athletes accused and caught perpetrating sexual and domestic violence, criminal behavior, drug use, and hazing.

 

The culture of the NFL has certainly been in question.

 

If you are fan of the NFL, have a favorite team, a beloved jersey, and relish in the sounds of Sunday game days; you too have been tasked with this issue of social responsibility.

 

Here is how to be a feminist and still love football without losing your game face.

 

Know Your Style of Feminism

 

If you haven’t figured this out yet, there is a high likelihood you are a feminist. Don’t like labels? Scared of the F-word? The word is meaningless without the intention behind it.

 

Most decent people value the safety and rights of women, and believe that women deserve equal treatment and status as men. Done. You’re a feminist. That’s okay.

 

It only gets complicated when you include the often unseen privileges men hold. Check out this Male Privilege Checklist and count the benefits. Men have cashed in on the success of these advantages and are the statistical majority in politics, corporations, and sports. Name your industry – men are in charge. Our feminism grows as our awareness of these issues deepens. Think progress.

 Sarah Thomas, First Female NFL Official

 

Understand Objectification and the Influence of the Media

 

Let’s look at the numbers. Super Bowl Sunday is a billion dollar industry and sells 30-second commercial spots for nearly $5 million a pop. These ads, and those broadcast throughout the NFL season typically target young men. The culture of this messaging highly objectifies women, promotes unrealistic relationships, and boasts of hyper-masculine, hetero-normative, bean-dipping dudes.

 

Check out this video from #WomenNotObjects for obvious clues to this problem. Contrast this with a Public Service Announcement (below) from a partnership between the NFL and NO More, an organization working to end sexual and domestic violence.

 

This brilliant PSA was actually a real call to 9-1-1 that went viral. When the dispatcher assessed the female caller’s situation, she proceeded to order a pizza as a way to communicate being in danger and that her abuser was in eyes-sight and ear-shot.

 

The timing of this collaboration to unveil it at the 2015 Super Bowl was no doubt a response to the attention Ray Rice brought the NFL from his public display of domestic violence.

 

We need to make efforts like this PSA the norm and give viewers more chances to access education and resources preventatively, not after the fact. In addition, it is up to us to see behind the propaganda of corporate advertising’s attempt to sell us products through sexist and misogynist messaging.

 

Find Your JJ Watt

 

I focus my attention on athletes, coaches, and industry leaders who choose to address issues that are helpful and healing to our communities. The NFL Man of The Year site has some great information about players worthy of our attention. Here you will find stats posted that reflect the positive impact these players have on their communities. Rarely do these stories make Sports Center headlines. Who we follow as role models is highly impactful. Know the good guys.

 

Understand this – All said, I love football. I grew up a Texas boy and football is a big thing here. I was born into it. I just don’t want it ruined by negative and inappropriate messaging. I believe we can control this problem if we can train ourselves to see and understand its impact.

 

Now I have 2 sons and I want them to responsibly love it too.

 

Our house is a JJ Watt house.

 

I believe Watt is an incredible athlete and a good person off the field. He is exciting to watch and positively pulls in your attention. He is both the most serious, well-trained athlete of our time, and can just as calmly claim, “this is just a game”. He is an ambassador of the sport and gives comfort through his superhero grin. I trust him to influence my kids and enjoy how much fun he makes watching football. That, and anyone who could influence my wife to watch football with me, scores points in my book.

***Writers note: I want to account for the many gaps in this blog. I understand that there are issues I may have left unattended. In addition, the quarterback match-up of Cam Newton vs Peyton Manning is worth attending to. A conversation has emerged with much criticism of Cam Newton. The dialogue questions his cultural influences on his play style and issues of race in the quarterback role. The media attention that feeds it seems totally racist and culturally insensitive – we’ll have to save that for another day.

 

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