Ines Bebea

That Certain Sinking Feeling

Detail of image by Alex Nabaum/The Washington Post.

As long as we’re wrecking your day, let us tack on the latest regarding the National Football League. Simone Sebastian and Ines Bebea bring the bad news:

It’s counterintuitive to the outside world: Women should leave their abusers, and their abusers should be punished. But the NFL is a unique universe with an overwhelmingly male workforce whose members are lionized in the press and in their communities; a we’re-all-in-this-together ethos; and incentives for the managers, coaches, and union reps to keep negative stories under wraps. Going to authorities, whether police or hospitals, means social exclusion and, more importantly, negative media attention that could end your husband’s career. Justice imperils their belonging and their livelihood.

National Football LeagueThe wives, whose husbands ended their playing careers in the 2000s, say they knew of no safe alternative — no liaison to players’ families, no counselor, and no procedure for reporting abuse. In fact, the league rarely communicates with wives at all, on issues serious or benign, even though a great number of them don’t work and are dependent on their husbands, they say. The NFL did not answer several requests for comment about league culture or how officials interact with players’ wives. Teri Patterson, deputy managing director and special counsel to the NFL Players Association, says her organization beefed up its communication with wives after she arrived in 2009. The NFLPA now holds meetings for players and their wives in 10 cities each year, plus up to five others at special events like the Super Bowl. (There are 32 teams in the league, meaning only one-third of them have access to the sessions each year.)

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, just one-quarter of the 1.3 million American women assaulted by an intimate partner each year report the attacks to the police. But the two wives interviewed for this article claimed the rate of reporting among NFL wives and girlfriends is much lower. They say the league has built a tight-knit culture, similar to a fraternity, with entrenched hierarchies and a fierce sense of loyalty among members. “You get brainwashed. It’s so ingrained that you protect the player, you just stay quiet. You learn your role is to be the supportive NFL wife,” says one of them, the onetime wife of a Saints player who asked to speak anonymously because her now ex-husband is still associated with the league. Otherwise, she says, “You’d cost him his job.”

Once upon a time, a childhood spent awash in football culture offered treasured memories. But we are living in a time when people are looking past the glories and wondering at the cost. And, yes, this chauvinistic, insane victimization looms over the sport today. True, that stings, but we’re also really, really late to this particular contest. One wonders how many wife-beaters have the stones to to take a swing at their best male friend for similar annoyance. And most of us know from observation the answer is not many. What we might observe from casual cultural references to domestic and intimate violence is pretty straightforward: You don’t treat people that way. Just women.

Or is this just the wrong time for sarcasm?

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Seastian, Simone and Ines Bebea. “For battered NFL wives, a message from the cops and the league: Keep quiet”. The Washington Post. 17 October 2014.