Let’s talk for a moment about the National Football’s League’s grossly irresponsible message to America’s children.
Baltimore Ravens star running back, Ray Rice, was suspended for a mere two games for knocking his then fiancé out cold on an elevator during a disagreement. The penalty for taking steroids is four games.
There is no excuse for such leniency for Rice – except to sell tickets and increase television ratings at the expense of teaching our children to treat woman with respect. Commissioner Roger Goodell should be ashamed of himself for such a contemptible decision.
If you wonder why date rape is such a problem on college campuses it is because messages like this. If you are a big man on campus, and in this case the NFL, you don’t have to play by the same rules. In this paradigm, women aren’t real people – they are “sort of people” to be controlled for a man’s pleasure – or to beat in an elevator to express displeasure.
The National Football League really dropped the ball and did society a disservice. The bare minimum should have been a five game suspension for Ray Rice. There is nothing more cowardly and despicable than a man slugging a woman. Rice’s time away from the game should have fit the crime.
But that’s not the only disgrace in the NFL recently.
Former NFL coach and broadcaster Tony Dungy – a devout fundamentalist Christian – made headlines when he said that he would not draft Michael Sam, the openly gay Missouri Tigers star who was drafted this year by the St. Louis Rams. According to Dungy, he wouldn’t draft Sam because he would be a “distraction.”
I guess that same irrational logic could have been used to keep Jackie Robinson from becoming the first black player in major league baseball. I suppose it could have been used to keep Barack Obama from becoming the first black president or Michael Steele from becoming the first African American leader of the Republican National Committee.
Natalie Nakase is working as an assistant coach for the Los Angeles Clippers in the National Basketball Association. She is on a trajectory to become, at some point, the first woman to coach an NBA team.
Clearly, some players will feel uncomfortable being coached by a woman. To avoid this so-called distraction, would Tony Dungy deny her a chance to break a barrier and coach in the NBA? Maybe his Christian beliefs also hold that Nakase should be in the kitchen and not the basketball gym with men?
Tony Dungy has clearly crossed a line. He’s entitled to his personal religious beliefs. It is his right to be prejudiced against Michael Sam. He’s even allowed to despise Sam’s life and to find homosexuality objectionable.
However, he is not entitled to is to use his bigotry to end a person’s career. Dungy’s position is, no matter how hard a gay player like Michael Sam works – no matter how talented he is – no matter how much he might contribute to a team – he still isn’t worthy of wearing an NFL uniform because of who he is. It is outrageous to suggest that Sam, who has done nothing wrong, ought to be punished and have his career short-circuited, simply because there might be over sensitive bigots in the locker room who are insecure with their manhood.
You can apply Dungy’s logic to discrimination against gays anywhere in the workforce. A gay CEO? Forget it – it will cause a distraction.
But that same logic could also be applied to Tony Dungy and other fundamentalist Christians. The coach’s ostentatious displays of religiosity were also a distraction. There were probably many players on his team who felt uncomfortable around his oppressive proselytizing. Dungy also can’t be naïve enough to think that his award from a hate group that he earned for his opposition to gay marriage wasn’t a team distraction. No doubt many players on his team secretly disagreed with his public stance on this controversial issue.
We need to judge people in the workplace based upon performance, not who they are. If Dungy isn’t able to separate his private beliefs from his hiring practices he should not be a coach or a television football analyst.
The good news is that a place exists for devout Christians who only want to work with those who have like-minded beliefs – it’s called a church. If Tony Dungy wants to become Pastor Dungy – then I’m perfectly fine with him not hiring Michael Sam as a deacon. But as far as I can tell, the NFL is supposed to be about football, not faith.
Whether it is the slap on the wrist for Ray Rice or the discrimination expressed by Tony Dungy – the NFL needs to go back to the huddle and come up with some new plays before anymore unforced fumbles occur.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”