With recent high profile domestic violence incidents (the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Rice, the San Francisco 49ers' Ray McDonald, the Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy), along with damning stats on brain disease and a $765 million head injury settlement (with more accusations to come?), plus a racially loaded team name—the NFL may be on its way to becoming this decade's Philip Morris.
At least on the blue side of the culture wars: "Football, the New Partisan Divide," declared a recent NYT demographic data crunch on parents in some states who don't let their sons play football (blue states) vs. parents in other states (red states) who do.
Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA)—who has already distributed a letter condemning NFL "slurs" and "bigotry"saying "the Washington, D.C. football team is on the wrong side of history" while pushing legislation to end the the tax-exempt status of 501 (c) (6) organizations like the NFL for continuing to promote racist names—stepped up her profile in this emerging culture war.
At a senate commerce committee hearing on domestic violence in professional sports yesterday, she sharply criticized the NFL again. Since 2000 there have been 89 different domestic violence assaults by NFL players—and 48 percent of all arrests for violent crimes among NFL players are domestic violence compared to the 21 percent reported nationally for men in the same age range. "Having these cases of domestic violence," Cantwell said, "to say nothing of the incidents of what happened in Florida with players [a Florida Sate University quarterback is under investigation for rape], the NFL is not showing the leadership that I believe it should."
With 12th man posters prominently hanging throughout King County (and the Seahawks eliciting the only nice comments you're likely to hear about Seattle east of the Cascades), Cantwell is picking an awkward time to champion the fight against the NFL.
But, as of yesterday, she's full on blitzing. At the hearing, Cantwell attacked a noteworthy discrepancy between the leagues. “We saw this case with Donald Sterling, and we saw immediate and swift action,” she said referring to the NBA’s decision to ban former L.A. Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling from the league after he made racist comments. But, addressing the NFL, Sen. Cantwell continued: “It is clear that in some cases these organizations can act swiftly and do act swiftly. The question is: In this issue of domestic violence, why you don’t?”
Unfortunately, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t show, nor did his NBA and MLB counterparts. (Joe Torre, baseball's Executive Vice President appeared at the hearing. And Kathleen Behrens, the NBA’s Executive Vice President for Social Responsibility and Player Programs, and Michele Roberts, Executive Director of the NBA Players Association also appeared.)
For its part, the NFL sent Teri Patterson, the Deputy Managing Director of the NFL Players Association, and Troy Vincent, the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations.
NFL exec Vincent simply spoke about his own experience growing up with domestic violence saying: “I relate to the 20 million victims, the survivors of domestic violence and abuse in every community across our great nation,” Vincent was widely quoted.
The NFL’s lackluster response to domestic violence didn't play well with Sen. Cantwell. Returning to her campaign against the Washington Redskins' controversial moniker, Cantwell used yesterday's hearing on DV to add: “I am hearing from my constituents as I have raised this issue related to what is a very hateful name in association with the NFL -- my constituents are just flabbergasted that the NFL continues to enjoy a tax exempt status. For what purpose?”
This isn’t the first time Sen. Cantwell has spoken out against the name in this context; In September, she proposed legislation to strip the NFL’s exemption—a tax exemption that only the NFL and NHL enjoy; the MLB gave theirs up in 2007 and the NBA has never had tax exempt status.
Sen. Cantwell, who had critically noted Goodell's absence, concluded, “[The] NFL is not showing the leadership that I believe it should," adding this time: 'and it certainly doesn’t deserve the tax exempt status."