Sarah Blugis: NFL fans: Keep tuning in, but commit to activism

Football has been in my blood since childhood. There are pictures of me wearing Dallas Cowboys onesies before I could even talk, and I’ve spent fall Sundays watching their games ever since.

But as this year’s professional football season starts up, I can’t help but feel a slight sense of dread.

The NFL has endured criticism over the years for the alarming number of players who have allegedly committed crimes, earning it the nickname “the National Felony League.” The latest player added to this list: Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Sarah Blugis

Last week, a surveillance video showed Rice punching his then-fiance unconscious before dragging her violently out of an elevator. Previously, the NFL suspended Rice for two games – the equivalent to a slap on the wrist in a 16-game-long season. Now, in light of this new footage, the Ravens have terminated his contract, and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.

The issue of domestic violence in the NFL extends far beyond Rice. The league has yet to penalize two other NFL players who are facing domestic violence charges.

Nationally, domestic violence accounts for 21 percent of arrests for violent crimes. In the NFL, it makes up a staggering 48 percent of arrests, serving as one of the largest blemishes on the league’s record.

As a feminist and football fan, my interests are at odds with one another. Every year, I observe the violent culture that my favorite sport cultivates both on and off the field. This season, especially, my instinct is to boycott watching the games altogether.

But that isn’t easy for me to do. For much of my life, my dedication to the Cowboys has been a way for me to bond with my family, especially with my dad. Football has always been central to the culture of my hometown in Pennsylvania’s coal country, and I’m proud that I can hold my own in discussions about turnovers and pass defense.

I’ve decided that asking myself – or anyone else – to give up watching their favorite team every week is too much. The joy that comes from watching the sport is not something people are going to give up en masse, and realistically, I won’t either.

Instead, I ask professional football fans at GW to join me in resisting the merchandise and tickets sold by our favorite teams this season.

At GW, we can be loud about the issues that are important to us. When former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg made controversial remarks about sexual assault on college campuses a few weeks ago, the uproar from student activists was deafening.

GW students hail from across the country – between all of us, we probably cheer on every professional football team. And as consumers and as fans, your voice is more influential than you think.

Recently, Cowboys fans have expressed their frustration with the losing team, its coaching staff and its owner by refusing to go to games and allowing the fans of opposing teams to fill their seats in the Dallas stadium. The franchise noticed the lack of blue shirts in the stands, and scrambled to come up with an explanation.

We don’t have the power or resources to raise this kind of red flag on our own, but that doesn’t mean we have to sit by quietly without acting. The voices of fans can clearly go a long way in sending a message.

It will take a while to shift the NFL’s violent culture, but in the meantime, we can help. As fans, we cannot be willfully ignorant: It’s unacceptable for any of us to dismiss the actions of our favorite players or teams just for the love of the game.

Sarah Blugis, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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