Football and Feminist Scholarship: A Marriage Made in Heaven

iStock-football-closeup-300x238I was sitting in a football stadium press box reading the chapter “The Triad of Violence in Men’s Sports” in the book Transforming a Rape Culture.  The irony was not lost on me. Days earlier I was yelling at the TV when National Football League handed down a paltry two game suspension to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for battering his fiance (as compared to another player who was suspended for five games for smoking weed). And now I was sitting in the “belly of the beast” – devouring free pizza, no less – while reading a classic on ending violence against women. Say what?

Welcome to my work-family balance. See, my husband is a football writer. We were heading out of town that night and the team was nice enough to let me tag along to practice (and eat their pizza) so we could save an hour and a half of driving. I just happened to be reading Transforming a Rape Culture (a little light beach reading) for a work project so I brought the book along to read while I waited.

When I got to that chapter worlds collided, as they often do in our work lives.  We are entering our fourteenth football season as a couple. We mark the events of our lives together in Super Bowl years: we got married two months after the team my husband covers won their first title and I defended my graduate thesis two months before they won their third. Our son arrived one week before the post-season. Our endless collection of books spans the entire gender spectrum.

I must admit, had I not ever met my husband I still might really dislike football and the extreme violence. But I have come to (begrudgingly) appreciate the intellect of the game and, more importantly, the people who surround the sport. I am consistently moved by the stories of players who have overcome adversity and utilize football as a way to move themselves, their families and their communities up and out of dire circumstances. I am in awe of the sense of community our city exudes during championship games and (hopefully) victory parades.

Most of all, I am consistently moved by the humanity my husband’s colleagues and fans show in times of need. The support I have received since “coming out” with my history and crowdfunding donations I have received to realize my dream of getting my Ph.D. (you can contribute, too, at have been overwhelmingly from the football community. If I know anything, I know football writers and fans are a passionate bunch. I am eternally grateful they have spread some of that zest my way. So thank you.

Yes, some football players can be horrendously violent off of the field. Yes, reports show Super Bowl Sunday can be the busiest day of the year for domestic violence shelters. Yes, the city hosting the Super Bowl gets increased attention about human trafficking surrounding the event. Do I support any of this? Of course not (and neither does my husband). Just in the same way I do not support the fact that 15.5 million children live in families in which intimate partner violence occurred at least once in the last year. Or that up to 300,000 children are at risk for CSEC in America each year. We live in a violent culture, of which football is a part.

While sitting in that press box I learned from author Michael Messner that the “triad of violence” for male athletes is made up of violence against other men, violence against self, and violence against other all in the name of peer bonding. Don’t be a sissy, don’t be a fag, and certainly don’t play or  throw “like a girl”…or else you are out. The mere threat of social isolation and losing face can be enough to make boys and men want to “man up” in our violent culture at an early age. I do see this side of football, and yet, I am also lucky enough to see the side that is outraged by the Ray Rice decision and is determined to speak out about domestic violence in football. I am proud to say they are our friends, colleagues and community.



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