The NFL’s female trouble

Tim Tebow, being dragged into the troubling Ray Rice-Stephen A. Smith narrative

Tim Tebow, being dragged into the troubling Ray Rice-Stephen A. Smith narrative

Hard to believe but it’s already football season, and God, it’s off to a dreadful start, isn’t it, what with former coach and analyst Tony Dunghy saying he wouldn’t want Michael Sam, foreseeing trouble ahead for the NFL’s first openly gay player, and then Baltimore Raven Ray Rice getting a slap on the wrist for allegedly beating his wife in an Atlantic City elevator when she was still his fiancée. 

This has been compounded by ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith saying that women should be careful not to provoke men, for which he received a week suspension. Now ESPN ombudsman Robert A. Lipsyte has weighed in, saying, “Smith’s attempts at coherency are often as exciting as Tim Tebow’s scrambling.” 

OK, people, let’s start with the easiest of the problems here. Why drag Tim Tebow – a man who has never shown women anything but respect – into this? Here’s a guy who’s training hard, hoping to get back into the NFL, unwilling to give up on his dream. There’s something at once poignant and commendable about this. But the NFL culture – which rejected him – can’t stop making fun of him even as it uses him to draw eyeballs. Pathetic.

But there’s something more serious going on here. And that’s the suggestion that if Smith only clarified his position, he wouldn’t have gotten into trouble. How much clearer could he be? He believes that people – more specifically, women – shouldn’t provoke men into beating them.  As Lipsyte’s column itself makes clear, almost unwittingly so, this isn’t the first time that Smith has riffed on the “there are plenty of instances where provocation comes into consideration” theme. His problem isn’t really a failure of communication. It’s the greater failure of thinking. And combined with Dunghy’s rejection of Sam – and yes, even the ridicule of the gentle, religious Tebow – it speaks of a brutal devaluation of anything that is not traditionally male in the NFL culture.

Don’t think I’m right? Just read some of the posts in the blogosphere. There are plenty of people who think Michelle Beadle should’ve been punished for violating ESPN policy in calling Smith out for his comments. And there are just as many – including some women – who say, hey, Rice’s wife Janay married him, didn’t she? (In the blame-the-victim-game, though, nothing tops the Baltimore Ravens themselves, who released a tweet that said that “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role she played the night of the incident.” Yeah, she deeply regrets being a punching bag. Clearly, PR isn’t the Ravens’ strong suit. )

This isn’t about what she or Beadle did or said. This is about the way men – who have advantages over women in weight, height and upper body strength – treat women.

If that seems unfair, well, you know what? Life is unfair.

So grow a pair – and grow up.