#BoycottNFL?: One Feminist NFL Fan’s Moral Dilemma

Content Note: Domestic Violence

Football has always been a part of my blood. My dad lived and breathed Texas A&M football, and while I rebelled to become a University of Texas fan and Dallas Cowboy, my love of the game remained the same. Last year, I commissioned a Skepchick Fantasy Football League, as well as placed second in my office league. Every spring, a new football season draws closer, free agency shake-ups occur, the draft takes place, and my itch for the season gets stronger.

This year that changed.

Earlier this month, it was announced that the Dallas Cowboys would pick up free agent Greg Hardy, formerly of the Carolina Panthers. If you just started watching the NFL last season, you may not know who Hardy is, because he was suspended for all but one game due to domestic abuse charges brought by his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder. Despite being convicted of those charges (which were later overturned on an appeal when Holder did not show up in court), he continued to draw a salary of $13.1 million.

I won’t get into the graphic details of the charges, because they sicken me. If you’re curious, much ink has been spilled about them elsewhere. I also won’t get into whether hiring Hardy is a good “strategic” move for the Cowboys. I don’t give a shit how talented someone is if they’re known to have a history of domestic violence.

I’ve toyed with the idea of boycotting the Cowboys, my life-long team, and supporting another team. Over the past several years, I’ve become a fan of the Seahawks’ brashness and social consciousness, and of course I was ecstatic when they beat the team that took the Cowboys out of the playoffs last year. And since I already cheer for Seattle’s other football team (their soccer team, that is), it’d be a natural progression to cheer for their NFL team too.

But part of me wonders if simply switching allegiances makes a damn bit of difference. After all, the NFL itself, the power structure that every team in the league is beholden to, is hardly guilt-free. After coming under fire last year for the handling of the Ray Rice situation, there was heightened scrutiny on the league’s handling of domestic violence issues, with many stating that the league’s actions were empty. And it’s not like Hardy is the only alleged abuser in the NFL (or even the only one playing for the Cowboys). Does cheering for another team matter when the entire structure needs to be burnt to the ground?

So what do I do? Give up on football entirely (there are plenty of convincing reasons to do that apart from the domestic violence issues)? Switch to a more progressive team? Stick with the status quo because, at the end of the day, all of our faves are problematic?

I think I hoped that in writing this, I’d come to some grand decision. I don’t have the answer right now, because I’m not sure there is a right answer. I definitely don’t think there’s a universal answer for every person reading this who may be struggling with the same questions. We all make compromises with our favorite musicians, artists, movies, sports teams, and brands. We try to strike a balance between the moral discomfort we live with, and minimizing as much harm as possible.

I guess this season I’ll figure out where that balance falls.

Featured Image by Steve

Courtney Caldwell

Courtney Caldwell is an intersectional feminist. Her talents include sweary rants, and clogging your social media with pictures of her dogs (and occasionally her begrudging cat). She's also a political nerd, whose far-left tendencies are a little out of place in the deep red Texas.

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  1. I’ve never been a sports-watching person, and maybe I’m missing some of the sense of shared identity that guides you here, but I’ve never understood why entertainment is the one field where we police employee behaviors through boycotts.

    I get the value of boycotts for effecting social change, and I’m not challenging that nor your willingness to use them for whatever end you personally see fit. And I don’t mean boycotts against entertainment programs that promote abuse themselves.

    But in no other field do we see people employed by a company doing terrible things outside their job and try to hold their employer accountable for it. Is it because you need a pathos for the team you cheer for? Because we feel like we know the attackers more personally due to their public image?

    I feel if I have a problem here, it’s with insufficient legal enforcement of domestic abuse laws, particularly across class divides.

      1. That’s fair. I was coming at it viewing the sporting event as the product, but I totally get approaching it that way.

    1. I would argue that it isn’t just in the realm of entertainment. One quick example is American Apparel. Dov Charney (their former CEO) was super creepy and had a history of alleged sexual harassment. So I boycotted them. He’s no longer there, and they’re still problematic in other ways, but it was Charney’s actions that really prompted my boycott.

      1. You’re right, and I’ll admit I boycott chick-fil-A because of the actions of their owner/operators. But CEOs aren’t regular employees, and I didn’t intend to catch them in that umbrella. And sexual harassment is an “on the job” crime. The company is directly accountable for policing that.

        But I appreciate your reasoning. Players, like CEOs, do have a lot of power in their organization, and it should be accountable.

  2. Yea, football is a tough one for me. Played in High School, grew up a Washington State and University of Washington fan as well as a Seahawks fan from day one of the franchise. The domestic violence is an issue, the misogyny is an issue, and the violence of the game as well as the concussions and lifelong mental and physical disabilities is an issue. Not to mention my emotional response when games don’t turn out the way I want. I was in an emotional funk for a couple of days after the super bowl despite my best efforts to convince myself that guys making millionaires playing a silly game for guys with billions was pretty irrational. And then there’s the indentured servant situation for college football players under the NCAA’s absurd rules where some players go hungry during school breaks when the athlete’s cafeterias are closed, and injuries that cause lifelong pain, suffering and mountains of medical bills are ignored and discounted. Yea, I have lots of issues with football and I didn’t let my son play when he was in school. I wish I could say I won’t be watching this fall but that would probably make me a liar.

  3. Thank you, Courtney. This is exactly how I feel and what I have been struggling with (as a Dallas fan, a football fan, and a feminist). I don’t know why it feels different from boycotting/not supporting Hobby Lobby, or the Salvation Army, or Walmart, but it does. Maybe because I don’t directly give the NFL any of my money? Indirectly, I certainly do, but I don’t go to the NFL store and buy NFL bread or NFL allergy medicine. And I certainly do tear them a new one every year over their BS “pro-women” Pinktober nonsense. Maybe because it’s pervasive. It’s easy to not go to Chik-Fil-A, but football just shows up on my TV (or at restaurants and bars).
    I was so dismayed at the Hardy signing, but as you say it’s not a Dallas-only problem. :-/ I guess I’m just “glad” that I’m not the only one whose brain hurts about this.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I could do a whole blog post (maybe even a series) on the Pinktober garbage. Like you, I’m “glad” this isn’t just me in this boat… sucks to be in the boat, nonetheless though!

  4. I’m in the exact same boat as you (lifelong Cowboys fan that’s even now living in Dallas), and add on being a feminist guy that’s trying to raise a girl in that same world (both feminist and fandom). This is just the latest salvo that makes me question my love of the game… concussions, exploitation of high school and college players, and the air of privilege that comes with football have been similar assaults.

    The Cowboys are particularly infuriating here, as they have Jason Witten on there as well, and he’s an outspoken and important voice against Fonestic Violence in the NFL. This is a team that certainly should know better, and did it anyway.

    I’d love to say I have a good answer… and I’m not going to be dishonest and say I’d manage a boycott or turning against them. Like turning against a lifetime of religion, it’s not an instant kind of move (and in the south, you can argue football is a religion). But all of this stuff had made me question the love and time I give the game, and I also have to be honest when I think I may need to give it up, just like I did religion so long ago.

    And I don’t like it.

  5. One big problem is the sheer difficulty with just getting these celebrities to get more than a slap on the wrist. If Ray Rice hadn’t been caught on camera, we wouldn’t have known about it. That makes me wonder how many other celebrities are spousal abusers.

  6. I too cheer the Seahawks, and I’m happy to hear that there aren’t any of their players that are known abusers, but, I see it as only a matter of time before a Seahawk does something horrible to another person. It’s kind of the nature of these guys to get emotional and aggressive, so, I’m fooling myself to think I can get away with throwing that at 49er fans/trolls forever. What will make a difference in how I view the team will be based on how the team management reacts when a situation like this inevitably arises.

    Don’t get me started with the NFL’s treatment of cheerleaders.

  7. Sorry, I may be missing something here (I live in Australia and don’t follow the NFL at all), but in this particular situation, wasn’t he found innocent on appeal? I certainly agree that there seems to be a lot more physical abuse in a most of contact sports, not to mention the disregard for drug laws and ongoing just being good people, but it seems like the domestic abuse legal system needs to be reassessed first, otherwise it’s the NFL punishing an employee for a charge that they are apparently innocent of.
    Again, I may be missing something and if someone could point it out, that would be great

    1. He was found innocent on appeal because his alleged victim didn’t show up to court. Give stuff like this, I’m hardly surprised she didn’t show.

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