Greg Hardy, 278 pounds of quarterback-chasing menace, was banished from football for a while after allegedly tossing his girlfriend in a tile bathtub, strangling her and throwing her on a futon covered in loaded automatic weapons. While on paid leave from work, he made a music video in which he rapped about “getting paid, getting laid” amid strippers and the sound of gunfire. He returned to the sport this week “guns blazing,” as he said in his first public words, while volunteering how attractive the supermodel wife of Tom Brady was and hoping she attended the game with her sister.
The coach of the Cowboys said these comments would not be tolerated. His boss Jerry Jones, a cowboy from another time, not only defended Hardy but pointed out Brady “went up in my eyes 100 percent” when he married such a trophy gal. Hardy will play Sunday, collecting NFL money and inflicting NFL violence again before having apologized publicly for any of the aforementioned.
Respect women. It seems like such an easy ask. Until you realize all you are requesting is a re-wiring of entire cultures. Not just athletic culture. American culture. The world’s culture. History’s culture. We don’t pay women as equals in the workforce even today, and we too often don’t treat them as equals outside it. Minor-league boys grow into professional men surrounded by a viral infection of inequality and, everywhere you look around them, women are treated like trophies, possessions and objects of pleasure. The strip-club and porn and prostitution industries do not profit and grow on the respect of women. Women are rewards for victory, almost literally in sports. Fame. Money. Glory. Women. These are the prizes, the spoils of conquest.
In an America where the justice system can’t figure out the correct way to fairly prosecute domestic abuse, we ask football’s commissioner to do it better (and his greatest public shame is not doing it better enough, even though he punished fiancée-puncher Ray Rice more than the legal system did). In an America that shames rape victims and keeps them from coming forward, the public storm becoming an echoing extension of the initial violation, accused hockey hero Patrick Kane returns to practice to an ovation. We keep asking our athletes to treat women better, but our messaging is all messed up around the lectures before we ever even arrive at the misbehavior and punishments.
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In football, the women are off to the side, jiggling, sex disguised as support, leading cheers, their appearances allowing them closer proximity to the gladiators than the rest of us. When three female journalists tried to enter the Jacksonville Jaguars locker room in Indianapolis, an usher symbolically denied them access to the man’s world. This wasn’t decades ago; this was days ago. Those women, ironically enough, were part of a sports-media diversity event we somehow still need in 2015.
Read the article by Julie Dicaro of The Cauldron about how male sports fans call her all manner of foul names for having the audacity to have an opinion about sports, and you’ll be left to wonder whether men love women or hate them. In the very language inside our games and in the stands, you insult a man’s toughness in the arena by calling him a female dog or female genitalia or accusing him of whining like a little girl. Sometimes, all of sports can feel as boys-clubby as Augusta. It can be hard for women to feel safe in this world, never mind welcome.
This wouldn’t fly with human resources at the average office, but objectification is such a part of the accepted fabric of sports and America, from the music in the locker rooms to the women journalists uncomfortable in it even when ushers aren’t accidentally banning them, that you have to be self-aware about your ogling of the cheerleaders to even notice the team-sponsored and accepted objectification in it at all. Thought experiment: Imagine, boys, if you return from concessions and what was gyrating at center court for your entertainment were 20 scantily-clad men. Or imagine a Rhonda Rousey UFC fight with oiled men showing a lot of skin while holding up a card to indicate the round.
This is a man’s world, in sports and beyond. The genders do not walk to their cars after the night game with the same feeling of safety, and they do not exist in the same space before it, either. Male athletes are just masculinity on steroids, sometimes literally, so what you get in your headlines is the very best of outsized men — bigger, stronger, faster — and the very worst, too. Give young men money and power and fame, plus misogynistic surroundings that treat women as rewards, and some will believe themselves entitled to take whatever they want whenever they want. Next thing you know, entitlement mixes with emotion and NBA player Matt Barnes is barging in a rage into the home of his ex to assault Derek Fisher and spit in her face as if she is something that belongs to him.
When this workplace has been your worldspace for your entire adult life, interchangeable women as trophies, disposable as athletic tape, there are so many contaminants. Take what reportedly happened with Giants receiver Victor Cruz last week. According to mediatakeout.com and US Magazine, the mother of Cruz’s 3-year-old mass texted the mistresses on his contact list after learning of his philandering.
“Hello, ladies. This is Elaina, Victor Cruz’s fiancée,” she reportedly wrote. “You all know about me, and I seem to be the topic of conversation with Vic. I’m sure he’s told you many things about us and how we don’t exist, but given the fact that you all meet him in hotel rooms only, we all know that’s a lie, just as he tells me you all are whores and mean nothing to him. I figured since you all know about me, then I should introduce each one of you to each other so we can all know who we have all been [expletive] for the past several months. So, ladies, meet one another and feel free to exchange notes.”
Hardy makes his triumphant return back into this world Sunday. The only remorse he has shown publicly was to the teammates he let down by not being available. In other words, the men.