MEMBERS ONLY: What A Feminist Football League Would Look Like

by Michele Zipp

I didn’t watch the Super Bowl last night. My allegiance doesn’t lie with the New England Patriots or the Philadelphia Eagles. My concern is with the hyper-masculinity that is celebrated and rewarded within the sport so many people love. If you look at what football is, nobody wins … because it’s an area where women are consistently defeated. If a society celebrates the oppression of women, that’s nothing to celebrate. That’s not winning.

The messages that the NFL is sending is degrading and extremely troubling. Women — of a certain body type only — should be on the sidelines cheering men on. It’s a sport where inflicting pain on others is celebrated, where barbaric takedowns are encouraged by beer-soaked savages. The league, the football workplace, which brings in about 14 billion dollars a year, is run by men, and employs mostly men. According to Sporting News55 women worked for the NFL in 2017. Consider this: the average team employs around 3,739 people; the NFL in total has around 115,000 jobs. And only 55 women work there. Of course, it could mean that women wouldn’t want to work for an industry that puts us on the sidelines and worse.

In this Super Bowl, there were five football players who have been accused of sexual assault or domestic violence. That’s five too many. We won’t even get into the league’s past history of issues here, but the list is long. There is evidence to suggest that the Super Bowl is the day where the number of domestic violence cases dramatically increases, though it’s not as significant as originally thought. Still, there is a reported 10 percent rise in at-home violence by men against women when there is an upset loss in the game, according to National Institutes of Health. A rise in any percentage is still significant. 

Also, despite their win, male Eagles fans took the streets and went rogue. Cars were being overturned, fires were started, stores looted, and there were numerous reports of fights breaking out and violence. Oh, football! The misogynist game of bruts! Let’s smash into each other and call it sport; let’s have to wear strong protective gear so we don’t kill each other! Let’s call this fun! Why are we condoning this?

While some are busy trying to “Make American Great Again,” perhaps we should take a deeper look at what makes us not great. Football is game where women are encouraged to flash their breasts when the Jumbotron camera comes around. This practice only reportedly happened twice this year at Eagles’ home games, though it used to be more commonplace. I don’t mean to pick on the Eagles and their fans — they aren’t even considered the worst in the league. Though with their win, they do have the power to change and come out against these issues — any of the teams do.

They won’t.

Just like they won’t support Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick dared to make a statement against police brutality. But fans made it clear that it’s not only women that don’t matter in football, it’s black lives, too. The only time football stands with black lives is on any given Sunday of football — because 70 percent of the players are black menFootball is steeped in racism as well as sexism, and classism. Feminism exists to end all those things.

It’s okay to like football — I’m not bashing those who do. But it’s not okay to look away from the issues within the sport — the issues that seep out into our everyday lives. What we really need to do to make America great is to look at our problems and fix them. Football is more than just a game, more than just people who toss the ball around. It’s a microcosm of the many issues we face as a society. We need the understanding of its fans to create change; we also need the change within the structure and culture of football.

Kaepernick — and the controversy that ensued when he took a knee — has done more to wake folks up about racial inequality because he took it right into their homes during the sport they so cherish. But we are staying silent when it comes to sexism. The entire league needs an overhaul and women need male allies within the league to make change happen. (Bring Kaepernick back!) 

This need for change has a much bigger importance than the Super Bowl itself, if only we could get all fans, all Americans to realize this. Boycotting the sport isn’t going to work because it will continue on without us. Instead, we need dialogue and accountability. In the era of #MeToo, we need the issues of sexism and crimes against women to be addressed, not ignored, and not perpetuated. We need counseling within to help anyone who needs it. We need to pay attention to the stress and strain put on the players so they don’t take it home with them. Swift disciplinary action needs to be taken against players or people within the NFL to suit their wrongdoings. Some of those billions of dollars should be spent on reform and helping survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault. We need women to be hired in key positions within the NFL to help facilitate those changes and take the game to the current century. Every cheerleader should strike and re-envision their roles. All the big social issues within the league, its players and owners, need to be discussed with ways to create change. This is how to be in the NFL and have feminist values. It’s possible.

As feminists — intersectional feminists — we must stand for the liberation of all those who are oppressed. The only football worth watching is one with true equality from the top down. The only victory worth celebrating is one where we are all equal. That should never be too much to ask.