By Tom Allon
My youngest daughter has recently become a bit of a football follower because her boyfriend is a New England Patriots fan. I took her to a New York Jets game recently and, although we had fun, I couldn’t help but experience a bittersweet feeling about watching grown men butting heads with each other at full speed — and consider the broader implications this has for our society.
And then, of course, came the infamous Ray Rice video, which has sparked universal outrage and which makes one wonder whether our society has gotten to a stage where we’ve let professional athletes — and some celebrities such as singer Chris Brown — become so entitled that they feel that smacking their girlfriend or spouse is acceptable behavior.
It is great that we’re living in a culture where all of this is now on video, forcing us to confront these ugly, private behaviors. It allows fathers and mothers to speak to their sons — and daughters — and point out that it is never right to raise a fist toward anyone. These are teachable moments we cannot let slip by.
Professional athletics, particularly football, has in many cases bred a culture of machismo, violence and degradation of women that has reached a crisis point. Fortunately, through ubiquitous video technology and viral social media, the outrage that pours out after these incidents is starting to lead to real punitive action — and accountability for those “bystanders” like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, now in the hot seat for not taking swifter and more severe action against Rice when the video allegedly first surfaced.
Rice, a superstar player for the Minnesota Vikings, deserves to be banned for at least the rest of the year, and unless he agrees to a long-term plan of counseling and anger management training, he should not be allowed to play again. It is time we set a zero-tolerance policy on spousal abuse. The NFL and other sports leagues could do good by pioneering this crackdown and setting up programs that can be emulated by other parts of society.
The other huge issue is how we view the accountability of bystanders who supervise those who are accused of such behavior. When former Penn State football Coach Joe Paterno covered up the horrific abuse perpetrated by one of his assistants, Jerry Sandusky, he went from hero to villain overnight. Now we will see whether Goodell failed in his role and whether his lack of action merits removal as commissioner.
This kind of scrutiny will resonate throughout the country. When CEOs or managers at corporations, nonprofits or government agencies are made aware of the private, bad behavior of their employees, they have a responsibility to speak up and do what is necessary to make sure that person gets help and that their behavior does not enter the workplace. Silence is not acceptable.
And then there is the related epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses just now being acknowledged thanks to a few brave, young women, like the Columbia University student lugging around campus the bed in which she was sexually assaulted. University presidents, provosts, deans and faculty must start taking seriously being the parental figures of the 18-to-25-year-olds on campus.
Let’s face it: the United States has been generally more enlightened than other cultures around the world, but we are still largely a patriarchal society.
The tide is beginning to turn, and this next generation has a chance to break down some of the barriers that have held women back. Paid family leave, for fathers as well as mothers, is one key component, equal pay for equal work is a huge part of our quest for economic justice and the proper education and training of young men, as early as their teen years, in sexual relations is an area where we are sorely lacking.
We need to have an open and a candid public conversation about ways we can ensure that women feel safe and equal in our society throughout their lives. The shocking video of Rice’s assault on his fiance has allowed us to confront one aspect of this.
Let’s not let this teachable moment go by and let’s continue to agitate for a just society for all women.
As a father of two teenage girls, I feel this need more strongly than ever.
Tom Allon, president of City & State NY, was a Republican and Liberal Party-backed mayoral candidate in 2013 before he left to return to the private sector. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.