NO MORE Not Heard

Sarena Malsin, Sports Editor

Many nodded in tentative approval at one of the Super Bowl’s many long-awaited ads on Sunday, which featured an iMessage conversation be­tween two friends trying to make plans to watch the game. One of the friends is clearly be­ing coerced by her partner at home not to leave the house, indicating some history of do­mestic abuse, and she doesn’t know how to respond to her friend’s inquiry of ‘“Are you OK?” before the commercial ends.

The organization behind the ad, called NO MORE, post­ed proudly on their website that they had teamed up with a similar organization called Grey Again as well as the NFL to run the ad to “empower viewers to learn the warning signs of domestic violence and sexual assault and how to help.”

The ad seemed poignant, especially given its appearance during the major televised event of a professional sports organization that is known for its share of domestic violence cases. Then, not 24 hours later and still on the heels of Super Bowl news, a story hit the press that made it clear just how pertinent this warn­ing was to the NFL, and just how much it has still failed to internalize NO MORE’s mes­sage: Cleveland Browns quar­terback Johnny Manziel was accused last week in only his most recent domestic violence case. According to his ex-girl­friend Colleen Crowley, he hit her in the head and ruptured her eardrum before kidnap­ping and threatening to kill her and himself. This Tuesday, based on an inconclusive ver­dict, the NFL released its own statement that it would not officially condemn or penal­ize Manziel, because authori­ties did not believe they had enough concrete evidence of his guilt to make a decision either way.

The incident marks the latest installment of what many football fans have been follow­ing as a long saga of Manziel’s downward spiral into habits of alcoholism and violence. The decision not to penalize him also marks the latest installment of the NFL’s consistent attempt to cover up flagrant acts of domestic violence committed by its players, as well as other irresponsible behavior inappropriate for their professional careers. Manziel has recently become the poster child for NFL coverups and excuses on both counts; a few weeks earlier, Manziel showed up to prac­tice inebriated. The Browns waved this off, claiming he was following the NFL’s concus­sion protocol forbidding the consumption of alcohol during recovery from head injury. Many network analysts called out this state­ment as false.

Many articles covering Manziel’s latest charges asserted that, while Manziel marks the first NFL domestic violence case of 2016, he will not be the last, indicating that the NFL’s passive reaction towards Manziel and others is enabling this unacceptable behavior.

Even more upsetting is the fact that Man­ziel’s family jumped in to defend him and disenfranchise Crowley. Manziel’s grandfa­ther, Norman Paul Manziel, stated publicly that Crowley “has her problems” and hinted that most of the issues his grandson had been having were because of their relationship.

Others seemed to jump on Manziel, Sr.’s boat; NFL network analyst Deion Sanders said that Manziel was merely “in love” and that this love was “crippling him.” Rhetoric like this creates a dangerous narrative that characterizes the way many male profes­sional sports stars are seen today, namely as inherently good, innocent boys who are try­ing to play the hero but fall victim to corrupt­ing circumstances out of their control. I say “boys” and not “men,” because treating these stars like perpetually confused youths is part of what makes the narrative appealing to so many fans and audiences. Adoring fans still call Manziel “Johnny” like a kid brother, fa­miliarizing him even as they’re discussing his violent and unacceptable actions. Even “love­sick,” a word circulated by Manziel’s grandfa­ther, paints his relationship as some angsty teen drama rather than a very serious adult issue for which he is absolutely accountable.

This lack of accountability is harmful to players too. If members of Manziel’s family and inner circle are worried about a down­ward spiral and substance abuse, brushing his actions under the rug and convincing him that improvement is out of his hands will not help him recover. Encouraging unacceptable behavior does not clear a path for improve­ment or education for Manziel or his fans. Manziel’s case is just the first of 2016 that em­phasizes how the NFL creates a toxic environ­ment with no repercussions for truly harmful behavior that, if unchecked, will only grow and build on itself.

Statistics support this trend. Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight compiled statistics revealing that the domestic violence arrest rate within the NFL is 48 percent, as com­pared to the general population of American men aged 25–29’s 21 percent. The Washington Post writes that eight NFL players were arrest­ed last year with charges of committing vio­lence against women; four of them still play in the league today.

NO MORE is warning us that even whim­sical, lighthearted events like the Super Bowl can be couched in fear for those enduring do­mestic abuse at home. Yet the NFL’s actions and decisions show no signs of it ceasing to condone or accept violence, particularly against women, instead pandering to its crit­ics in hopes of pushing off the issue. With NO MORE’s ad and Manziel’s case fresh on every­one’s minds, the phrase “practice what you preach” should really start kicking in now.