To the National Football League, with love.

Dear NFL,

Thank you. For years, sports – and the franchises, leagues, and athletes that compose them – have been a vehicle for social change on a grand stage. No matter the game, sports transcend ethnic, religious, and political backgrounds that otherwise divide us, and unite people under a logo to support the same cause. The reach that sports has cannot be overstated; we’ve seen integration, anti-war sentiments, and homosexuality at the forefront of the sporting world and each time, you’ve been called upon to help eradicate social injustice. This past offseason was no different.

Thank you. From the first day that outrageous video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator surfaced, the issue of domestic violence has been front and center within the league. How could it not be? The flagrant disregard Rice shows for his fiancée during that video was disturbing for man and woman alike; humans aren’t supposed to mop the floor with other humans. We had feminist groups picketing outside headquarters, ESPN suspending analysts for poorly articulated comments, and football fans everywhere pressing for a strong stance against this kind of abuse. We anxiously waited Roger Goodell’s decision, ready to watch the National Football League use its prominence and power to set the standard for people all over.

Thank you. When I caught wind of the Baltimore Ravens holding a press conference at which both Ray and Janay Rice would be present, a knot formed in my gut. It was over. Step one of the dilution process had begun. Somehow, Roger Goodell and Co. were going to twist words and logic in a sick attempt to mollify the public outcry against Rice’s actions. Janay’s legal and ethical rights were going to be ignored and manipulated by the only organization powerful enough to protect her. Devoid of morals and driven by profit; it was par for the course under Goodell. I could only tune in, hold my breath, and watch.

Thank you. The press conference went exactly as I assumed it would. I witnessed with disgust Ray Rice stumble over a poorly written apology to the Baltimore Ravens’ owner, general manager, and head coach, in that order. He apologized to the community, to the media, to his fans; everyone was accounted for and administered an apology except his wife. Rice chose to look at the “bright side” of the situation and reflect on how it had bettered him as a football player, as a father, as a husband. While he admitted remorse for letting down his fans and for failing miserably in his job as a role model, not once did he mention the sorrow or guilt he harbored for the woman he put his hands on. The Ray Rice Show continued on.

For the very last minute and a half, I listened in literal open-mouthed horror as Janay apologized for the role she played in the ordeal. I couldn’t believe it. This woman, who had been battered by her husband, humiliated in public, and then thrust into the spotlight to be scapegoated by the country’s most influential sports organization actually said she “deeply regretted” the role she played in getting the shit beaten out of her. Even for the NFL, this was low. The biggest professional sports stage in the country, the ability and power to take a stance against domestic violence, and Roger Goodell, the Baltimore Ravens, and Ray Rice united to let down an entire movement. Because of you, we took a thousand steps backwards in the world of gender equality. Thank you.

Thank you. Not only did Janay Rice not press charges against her abuser, she married him a few weeks later. I can only imagine that we have you to thank for that; you would have an impossible task trying to convince me that pressure from the league, the Ravens’ management, and her own husband didn’t play a role in Janay’s reaction. Maybe she thought it was okay to marry the man who knocked her unconscious, who used her as a pawn in his attempt to salvage his reputation because the NFL said so. According to the league, his actions against her were deserving of a two-game slap on the wrist; why abandon a relationship over such a minor misstep? There’s popular thought that women who are abused by people they trust stay with those people because they harbor feelings of guilt; these women think they deserve to be mistreated, physically, sexually, and emotionally, because of something they’ve done so they stay with their attackers, unable to break the cycle. Thank you, NFL, for validating this sick, unrefined mentality for battered women – and the men who abuse them – across the world.

Thank you. The news broke about Ray Rice’s two-game suspension the same way the story on Bill Clinton’s rendezvous with Monica Lewinksy did: every outlet, trying in vain to maintain neutrality, had anchors with disdain in their voices, shadows across their faces, silent disappointment coursing through their posture. You thought the sports world was outraged when the video surfaced? At least Rice’s actions could be mildly attributed to fight or flight, the frailty of the human condition. Was it right? Acceptable? Excusable? Not on any level. But Ray Rice’s reprehensible actions had taken place during thirty seconds of blind rage. The NFL’s reprehensible actions had taken place after weeks of deliberation. It was a slap in the face (pun intended) to every woman in America; every woman who has a story of feeling threatened or scared of someone who could overpower her; every woman who has a story of being discriminated against or belittled because of her gender; every woman who has ever been sexually, physically or emotionally abused by a stranger or, arguably worse, someone she trusted. Every woman was let down by the resolution handed down by the NFL. More than ever, the league deserved to be ashamed and revolted by itself.

Thank you. I watched the #2Games hashtag blow up all over Twitter. Men and women alike were disgusted and enraged. In a perfect juxtaposition, Josh Gordon’s yearlong suspension for marijuana use was held up by the same talking heads that had decided on a two game punishment for beating a defenseless woman. This just about settled things; in my head, it was going to be a long fall and winter of boycotts. Just about the only positive I could figure was that my homework would get finished on time because I wouldn’t be wasting my Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights watching football, driving to Atlanta to do marketing analysis for the Falcons, or stalking Matthew Berry’s Twitter account for fantasy clues. It was a bitter resolution but I suppose I hold myself to a moral standard higher than that of the National Football League. I felt I had a duty to my sex to abstain from any activity that could support the league that viewed my gender with such insignificance. I was nauseated, disappointed, and exhausted with the gross negligence of such an influential body

Thank you. In the waning days of August, I finished my workout, cleaned the elliptical and retrieved my phone from the locker to find 16 new notifications – 12 of which were text messages from my friends and family with pictures of the breaking news headline on the SportsCenter ticker, screenshots of the ESPN and NFL Twitter accounts, and TeamStream headline of Goodell’s statement and new policy.

Thank you. Goodell admitted, finally, that he “didn’t get it right” with Ray Rice. The NFL was taking a new stance, one much more appropriate for the mistreatment of another human being: six games for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Unabashedly, I danced in the middle of the hallway in my sweaty Nike workout clothes and worn out Free Runs. Six whole games for a first-time offender – that was almost half the season! And a lifetime ban for a second transgression? It was almost unheard of. Sports anchors announcing this new change in policy seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. This provided a chance for everyone to jump on the same ship; no one dared speak out against the new ruling for fear of inciting a riot. It was a heavy-handed punishment, an attempt for the NFL to right its sinking ship and begin mending the bridges it had burned in its hurry to mollify a situation that needed time and thought and action. Is the situation perfect? No. But it’s better.

Thank you. I know that I didn’t do anything to personally aid in the amendment of this policy. I know, even, that Goodell probably didn’t act out of the goodness of his morally devoid heart; women’s merchandise sales must have really plummeted in the month of July. Knowing all of this, I still harbor an immense appreciation for the changes made by the league. Even though I didn’t play a role in changing the standard, it still feels like a personal victory.

I know now that there will be a steadfast penalty for professional athletes who succumb to anger and physically harm women.

I feel welcomed back into the NFL community and not alienated and stratified. I feel like the NFL is trying to do its part to protect me.

Thank you for trying. As a woman working to succeed in a male-dominated arena, I appreciate the effort put forth. No, the system isn’t perfect; of course the situation could have been handled more appropriately from the start. In the end, however, and continuing forward, the effort was there. The standard has been set. Someone, somewhere in the system, was listening. So thank you.

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