Tag Archives: NFL

NFL’s Shielded Barbarism Exposes Racism in U.S.

A few days after the 2015 Super Bowl XLIX, during the ESPN Radio Mike & Mike sports talk show, Mike Greenberg returned to the debate over Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, while also mentioning New England Patriots Rob Gronkowski‘s appearance on ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Lynch has received considerable criticism for his behavior during required media sessions as well as crotch-grabbing after scoring touch downs.

Greenberg has more or less argued that much of that criticism (except for the crotch grabbing) is misguided, including calling for everyone to leave Lynch alone. Since Arizona Cardinals linebacker Larry Foote (and others) has recently claimed Lynch is a dangerous role model, especially for inner-city youth, Greenberg pointed to Gronkowski’s comments to Kimmel, offered jokingly:

“I got pushed or something, and it was the last game of the year, and I was like, ‘Screw it, I’m throwing some haymakers,'” Gronkowski said Monday night.

Further, Greenberg highlighted that Gronkowski had also said the last book he read was in ninth grade, To Kill a Mockingbird, pointing out that Gronkowski had attended the University of Arizona.

The intersection of judgmental reactions to Lynch with, as Greenberg emphasized, most people viewing Gronkowski (playfully referred to as “Gronk”) as a lovable goof who likes to have a good time, partying and dancing (even after post-season loses), prompted Greenberg to wonder why Lynch and Gronkowski receive such different public responses.

Two important messages are presented in that intersection and Greenberg’s inability to understand it.

First, the closing seconds of Super Bowl XLIX included a “scrum that marred the end” of the game, ESPN reported, noting Gronkowski was not ejected. While viewing the fight with Kimmel, Gronkowski laughed about the incident:

“I don’t think I did. Roger, no, I did not,” the tight end said with a smile when asked by Kimmel whether he threw punches, referring to commissioner Roger Goodell.

Gronkowski said he did not want the league to fine him, jokingly saying he needed money for an upgraded party bus.

“Roger, that wasn’t me,” Gronkowski said as video replay of the fight was aired during the interview.

In a season highlighted by the NFL receiving several black eyes and bloody noses for players involved in off-the-field violence and the league appearing to fumble how to handle those public failures, and against the on-going pressure and fines bombarding Lynch mainly for not talking to the media, both the fight and Gronkowski’s role in and attitude about it expose the cavalier and hypocritical barbarism of the NFL itself.

Every play in the NFL depends on violence—but only the sort of violence endorsed by the shield. Fights after a violent play are forbidden (apparently because the sport has some sort of ethical code?). And violence off the field is now also forbidden since those incidences have been made public.

Especially New England fans, but virtually everyone who weighed in on the fight, directly and indirectly drifted into why Lynch receives more criticism and hatred than Gronkowski—those Seahawks revealed who they really are (hint: thugs).

Setting aside that moralizing by Patriots or Patriots fans may be one of the most hypocritical events in all of sports, how the media and public responded leads to an explanation for Greenberg’s question.

The NFL maintains a tight grip on its shield, hoping to hide behind it, but the inherent hypocrisy of the sport and business is gradually being exposed. As well, the NFL provides ample evidence of the power of racism remaining in the U.S.

The media and public cry, Why doesn’t Lynch know his place?

And then the media and public guffaw with Gronkowski: “The people of Boston could not love him more.”

Lynch Gronk
Lynch and Gronkowski posing as role models?

Those different responses are literally black and white.

Of the two, the far worse role model is Gronkowski—whose nudge-nudge-wink-wink to “Roger” was clearly disrespecting authority (but remains safely in the Joe-Namath playboy template of good ol’ U.S.A. middle-class hypocrisy), whose response to the fight never rose above what we should expect from a nine-year-old, and whose reading comment may be the most troubling of all.

Of the two, Lynch deserves a much different response—as Jay Smooth explains far more eloquently than I could:

Delusion is a powerful thing, and in the U.S., our entertainment is certainly some of the ugliest examples of our delusions.

Those delusions of entertainment, however, reveal some hard truths.

The selective barbarism of the NFL is our barbarism.

But the most barbaric reality about the NFL is the racism shielded as moralizing condemning Lynch but exempt for Gronkowski.


Spare the Rod, Respect the Child: Abuse Is Not Discipline

As a teenager and then a young adult, I witnessed in two different contexts a powerful and publicly praised adult who was not what he appeared. Particularly when I was a young adult, early in my career, I was able to fully recognize that this person was the embodiment of hypocrisy and was certainly not suited for his role dealing with teens in multiple roles of authority.

While I raised my concerns often, being essentially powerless, I had little impact on this situation.

During the seemingly endless controversies surrounding the NFL in the past year—bullying, domestic abuse, child abuse—I am reminded of those experiences and a central lesson I learned: Those in power on the inside know the truth, but will never admit the truth, and will only confront what they are forced to confront when small moments of truth are revealed.

The domestic abuse video and the child abuse photographs (and admissions) are merely the tip of the iceberg of the essential violence fostered and tolerated by the NFL, a culture of violence that spills over into the lives and families of NFL players beyond the playing field.

And to act as if those on the inside of the NFL are not aware of that iceberg below the surface, below the tip the public sees occasionally is more willful ignorance by the public.

NFL owners know. Coaches knows. NFL bureaucrats know. Teammates know.

But to all involved, the NFL matters more, and collateral damage remains something tolerated, something ignored, something hidden.

This, however, is not an indictment of the NFL only, but that this NFL is a reflection of the U.S. widely, an essentially violent nation that has little regard for the dignity and safety of our children.

And thus we have NFL leaders speaking on Adrian Peterson’s behalf, calling for his right to due process—despite photographs capturing abuse and despite Peterson’s own admissions about his actions, admissions that include:

I have to live with the fact that when I disciplined my son the way I was disciplined as a child, I caused an injury that I never intended or thought would happen. I know that many people disagree with the way I disciplined my child.

I know Peterson has been handled, that these public statements have been vetted and manipulated, but I also know that no amount of framing his actions as “discipline” can mask that his actions are abuse.

Just as there is no justification for a powerful and athletic man to hit his spouse or partner, knocking her unconscious, there is no justification for an adult hitting a child. None.

I must stress here that I am also not only condemning Peterson and his actions (although I strongly condemn those specific action) because Peterson’s attitude and behavior are being replicated across the U.S. daily, justified as the rights of parents, justified by Biblical scripture.

Corporal punishment remains allowed in schools in more than a third of the U.S., in fact.

Hitting children remains a cultural norm of not only the home but the state.

Hitting children (distinct from domestic violence) is framed as a debate [1]—while we seem not to concede credibility to those endorsing husbands hitting their wives, we do allow those advocating spanking children credibility.

And that calls into question not just the NFL, but our entire nation, our cultural norms that appear mostly negligent about the safety and health of our children—the least powerful beings in our democracy.

Just as we continue to embrace grade retention despite decades of research showing it is harmful to children—again allowing the topic to be framed as a debate—we are no better than the powers that be in the NFL who certainly know about the iceberg below the surface that we also willfully ignore because we not only turn a blind eye to child abuse in the form of corporal punishment, we pretend that the research doesn’t exit—research from the APA that concludes:

“Until researchers, clinicians, and parents can definitively demonstrate the presence of positive effects of corporal punishment, including effectiveness in halting future misbehavior, not just the absence of negative effects, we as psychologists can not responsibly recommend its use,” Gershoff writes.

The U.S. is a violent nation and our national sport is the extension of our violent selves, a people not overly concerned about the weak, the powerless, the frail.

In Raising Arizona, H.I. laments, “Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.” While this is true, it appears it remains upon us, the adults, to make sure in every way we can control that the world doesn’t have to be so.

Our response to Adrian Peterson must be that we are not simply disagreeing with him about his choices involving his children; we see abuse where he is unable to recognize it, unable to admit it.

It simply isn’t any parent’s right to decide about abuse. To call it “discipline” and to claim no intent do not matter.

But it would be adding insult to injury even if we take a stand against Peterson (although it appears we won’t) without taking a much wider stance against any form of physical abuse of children.

Ultimately, the only clear line we must take is zero tolerance for corporal punishment.

[1] Consider how we seem to ignore the significant danger tobacco smoke poses to children, highlighted by how rare bans on smoking with children in the care remain in the U.S. Laws prohibit children buying cigarettes, but because of parental rights, children must suffer second-hand smoke in cars and homes.

See Also

On Spanking and Abuse, Charles Blow

What Science Says About Using Physical Force To Punish A Child

However, there is overwhelming evidence that physical punishment is both ineffective and harmful to child development. Former HuffPost Senior Columnist Lisa Belkin has argued that the word “debate” should be left out of the spanking conversation, because the science against it is so clearly one-sided.

“There aren’t two sides. There is a preponderance of fact, and there are people who find it inconvenient to accept those facts,” Belkin wrote in a 2012 column.

Adrian Peterson and what our fathers did to us: we have not turned out fine

19 states still allow corporal punishment in school

Adjectives and Video: The Willful Ignorance of a Violent Nation

Darkly humorous and deeply unsettling, “Rape Fantasies” by Margaret Atwood confronts the 1970s pop culture examination of date rape. As Atwood is apt to do, she forces readers to tread uncomfortably in the water of what constitutes rape, including details of women’s rape fantasies and the very real possibility that the narrator feels threatened by her date.

That “date” qualifies rape in this story came back to me as the U.S. is now confronting domestic violence—and yet another qualification with “domestic.” Domestic violence is now poised to gain the same popular (and short-lived) attention once afforded date rape; there will be dramatic headlines and many, many talking heads holding forth on the topic.

The current specific act of violence occurring within the sacred NFL and the video of the husband hitting his wife, knocking her unconscious, being released (another public layer of her assault) are compounding elements that are certain to increase the media frenzy to follow.

Almost 40 years after the mainstream press made date rape the issue of the moment, women are still highly likely to be sexually assaulted by an acquaintance such as a date; little changed, it seems, from the media spotlight, however distorted it was.

I see no reason to expect the safety of spouses and significant others to change much once the domestic violence frenzy has passed, and I regret that stance, basing it on our inability to learn from the past and our willful ignorance about our essential violent nature as a nation, cloaked in our urge to qualify (those distinguishing adjectives).

The Willful Ignorance of a Violent Nation

The military action by the U.S. in Vietnam should have offered many important lessons, but one of the most distinct, I think, was that once a war was televised directly into the homes of the public in the U.S., people were forced to consider their views about war. [1] Without the video, out of sight, out of mind.

Vivid video and disturbing photography remain with us from the Vietnam conflict, but instead of setting aside our eagerness to venture into wars (on other people’s soil), the U.S. has instead sought ways to keep the public from seeing the horrors of war. Still the government controls what we see each time we again venture into war, so that now war mainly looks like a big video game.

Little do we discuss the innocent women and children dying under the blanket of our smart bombs and drones, and rarely do we see such carnage. And thus, we can recede into our cocoon of willful ignorance about our acts of war while we condemn other countries and cultures for their barbarism.

One doesn’t have to read Orwell to confront the “police action” in Vietnam or the use of “peacekeeper” missiles. And it doesn’t take much to begin to see how adding “date” to rape and “domestic” to violence will not serve us well.

Without the video of what happened in a casino elevator, somehow the “violence” in domestic violence was comfortably out of sight, out of mind.

But now that we can see it, there is outrage and shock, but it appears the problem is the “domestic” and not the “violence.” And it appears many across the U.S. are shocked to confront that a man paid an enormous amount of money to be violent has turned that violence on a woman.

We appear equally shocked that an organization that makes billions of dollars from violence as entertainment seemed tone deaf about domestic violence and none too eager to do anything beyond tokenism about it (until it became a PR nightmare and threatened that bottom billion-dollar mark).

The U.S. is an NFL and college football nation—addicted to violence as entertainment. The U.S. has a disturbing gun fetish and an ugly comfort with mistreating children, not the least of which is corporal punishment. The U.S. continues a long tradition of war mongering as well (just as long as we control the video).

The problem, you see, is not the NFL or domestic violence—both of which reflect, not cause, our essential violent nature.

The problem is us, our willful ignorance that allows us to beat our chests about no man should hit a woman while never confronting that violence should nearly never be justified.

The problem is everyone who is complicit in this culture of violence, a violence not only tolerated but perpetuated as long as it is monetized.

It isn’t likely we’ll do anything substantial about domestic violence, at least no more than the token and passing interest we paid date rape. But I am certain we’ll find some way to start a bucket challenge about it on Facebook so no one has any time to throw cold water on all that money being made on violence as entertainment.

[1] See War Policy, Public Support, and the Media

NFL again a Harbinger for Failed Education Reform?

During the impending NFL strike in 2011—the act of a union—I drew a comparison between how the public in the U.S. responds to unionization in different contexts:

“I am speaking about the possible NFL strike that hangs over this coming Super Bowl weekend: a struggle between billionaires and millionaires, which, indirectly, shines an important light on the rise of teacher and teacher union-bashing in the US. Adam Bessie, in Truthout, identifies how the myth of the bad teacher has evolved.”

Once again, the NFL is facing a situation that I believe and even hope is another harbinger of how education reform can be halted: A suit filed by the family of Junior Seau:

“The family said the league not only ‘propagated the false myth that collisions of all kinds, including brutal and ferocious collisions, many of which lead to short-term and long-term neurological damage to players, are an acceptable, desired and natural consequence of the game,’ but also that ‘the N.F.L. failed to disseminate to then-current and former N.F.L. players health information it possessed’ about the risks associated with brain trauma.”

This law suit has prompted a considerable amount of debate concerning whether or not the NFL as we currently know it could be dramatically reconfigured under the pressure of more law suits. In other words, the inherent but often ignored or concealed dangers of football are now being exposed by legal action, in much the same way as the tobacco industry was unmasked and thus the entire culture of smoking has radically changed in the last couple decades.

With the release of the Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA) Special Issue on “Value-Added Model (VAM) Research for Educational Policy,” a similar question should now be raised about the future of implementing high-stakes accountability policies that focus on teacher evaluation and retention through VAM-style metrics.

“High-Stakes Implementation of VAM,…Premature”

Two articles in the special issue from EPAA examines the validity and reliability of VAM-based teacher evaluation in high-stakes settings and then places these policies in the context of legal ramifications faced by districts and states for those policies.

“The Legal Consequences of Mandating High Stakes Decisions Based on Low Quality Information: Teacher Evaluation in the Race-to-the-Top Era” (Baker, Oluwole, & Green, 2013) identifies the current trend: “Spurred by the Race-to-the-Top program championed by the Obama administration and a changing political climate in favor of holding teachers accountable for the performance of their students, many states revamped their tenure laws and passed additional legislation designed to tie student performance to teacher evaluations” (p. 3). Because of the political and public momentum behind reforming teacher evaluation, Baker, Oluwole, and Green seek “to bring some urgency to the need to re-examine the current legislative models that put teachers at great risk of unfair evaluation, removal of tenure, and ultimately wrongful dismissal” (p. 5).

While Baker, Oluwole, and Green offer a detailed and evidence-based examination of the VAM-based and student growth model approaches to high-stakes teacher accountability, they ultimately place the weaknesses of reform policies in the context of potential challenges from teachers who believe they have been wrongfully evaluated or dismissed:

“In this section, we address the various legal challenges that might be brought by teachers dismissed under the rigid statutory structures outlined previously in this article. We also address how arguments on behalf of teachers might be framed differently in a context where value-added measures are used versus one where student growth percentiles are used. Where value-added measures are used, we suspect that teachers will have to show that while those measures were intended to attribute student achievement to their effectiveness, the measures failed to do so in a number of ways. That is, where value-added measures are used to assign effectiveness ratings, we suspect that the validity and reliability, as well as understandability of those measures would need to be deliberated at trial. However, where student growth percentiles are used, we would argue that the measures on their face are simply not designed for attributing responsibility to the teacher, and thus making such a leap would necessarily constitute a wrongful judgment. That is, one would not necessarily even have to vet the SGP measures for reliability or validity via any statistical analysis, because on their face they are invalid for this purpose.”

The analysis ultimately discredits both the use of narrow metrics to determine teacher quality and the high-stakes policies being implemented using those metrics, concluding with the ironic consequences of these policies: “Overly prescriptive, rigid teacher evaluation mandates, in our view, are likely to open the floodgates to new litigation over teacher due process rights. This is likely despite the fact that much of the policy impetus behind these new evaluation systems is the reduction of legal hassles involved in terminating ineffective teachers” (pp. 18-19).

In “Legal Issues in the Use of Student Test Scores and Value-added Models (VAM) to Determine Educational Quality” (Pullin, 2013), the rapid increase of VAM-based accountability is further examined in the context of “a wide array of potential legal issues [that] could arise from the implementation of these programs” (p. 2).

Pullin notes the motivation for reforming teacher evaluation:

“VAM initiatives are consistent with a highly publicized press from the business community and many politicians to make government services more like private business, data-driven to measure productivity and accountability (Kupermintz, 2003). VAM approaches are in part a response to concerns that the current system of selecting and compensating teachers based their education and credentials is insufficient for insuring teacher quality (Corcoran, 2011; Gordon, Kane & Staiger, 2006; Hanushek & Rivkin, 2012; Harris, 2011). There have been increasing expressions of concern that teacher evaluation practices are not robust and do not improve practice (Kennedy, 2010). In the contemporary public policy context, much of the support for the use of student test scores for educator evaluation comes from a concern that the current system for evaluation is ineffective and that the current legal protections for teachers are too cumbersome for schools seeking to terminate teachers (Harris, 2009, 2011).”

While a business model for addressing quality control of a work force may seem efficient, Pullin highlights that legal ramifications are likely with these new models.

Pullin’s analysis offers a detailed and useful examination of previous court cases involving the use of test scores to evaluate educators, including recent cases involving VAM, concluding that the picture is not clear on how the courts may rule in the future, but that a pattern exists of “heavy judicial deference to state and local education policymakers and the allure of using test scores to make decisions about education quality” (p. 5).

Further, Pullin notes “there are differences of perspective among social scientists about VAM and the defensibility of using it to make high-stakes decisions about educators,” further complicating the concerns of legal action (p. 9).

While raising many other complications, Pullin also notes that students and parents may enter legal battles using VAM metrics “to substantiate their own legal claims that schools are not meeting their obligations to provide education” (p. 14).

Pullin concludes with a sobering look at teacher quality reform built on VAM and implemented in high-stakes environments:

“In the broad contemporary public policy context for education reform, the desire for accountability and transparency in government, coupled with heavily financed criticisms of public school teachers and their unions, may mean that VAM initiatives will prevail. The concerns of education researchers about VAM, coupled with legal obligations for the validity and reliability of education and evaluation programs should require judges and education policymakers to take a closer look for future decision-making. At the same time, the social science research community should be generating substantial new and persuasive evidence about VAM and the validity and reliability of all of its potential uses. For public policymakers, there are strong reasons to suggest that high-stakes implementation of VAM is, at best, premature and, as a result, the potential for successful legal challenge to its use is high. The use of VAM as a policy tool for meaningful education improvement has considerable limitations, whether or not some judges might consider it legally defensible.” (p. 17)

Like the NFL, federal and state governments may soon be compelled to reform the reform movement under the threat of legal action from a variety of stakeholders since the science of teacher evaluation remains far behind the curve of implementation, particularly when teacher evaluation is high-stakes and based on VAM and other metrics linked to student test scores.

The special issue from EPAA is yet another call for political leadership to pause if not end wide-scale teacher evaluation and retention models that pose legal, statistical, and funding challenges that those leaders appear unwilling to acknowledge or address.