Hit or Miss

Broadly highlights violence, abuse in NFL with ’44 Players’

December 17, 2015

They resemble trading cards, the kind with the athlete’s photo on the front and stats on the back. Broadly, Vice’s website for women, released a piece last week on 44 NFL players, each presented like a clickable card. On the front is the player’s photo, and on the back, the allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence against him. That’s almost enough players to form their own team.

The NFL is notorious for off-the-field scandals. New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, notably, was convicted of murder in April and is serving a life sentence. But perhaps more troubling are violent or otherwise abusive players who the NFL allows back on the field. After Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice delivered a knockout punch to his fiance last year—on camera—and initially received just a two-game suspension, there has been heightened scrutiny of the league’s forgiving attitude toward violence against women. The Broadly project creates an alarming sense of how pervasive that problem really is.

Though conceived as an aggregation effort, Broadly found that many news articles lacked detail about women’s allegations against the players. So, its team relied on court documents (uploaded to its site) to report each story. “That was a fucking headache,” says Broadly editor in chief Tracie Egan Morrissey, who spearheaded the project. “It took way longer than I thought.” Research began around the first game of the season, in early September.  

“We weren’t burdened with having to give a shit about the sport,” Morrissey says, “We just wanted to say exactly what happened.”

Players are sorted by domestic violence or sexual assault, but included alongside those convicted of a crime are players who were acquitted or only accused, sometimes while in college. Of the 44, 40 weren’t convicted of the crime in question. But Morrissey notes that these cases are notoriously hard to prosecute. And as she explains, NFL policy holds league personnel to a high standard: “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are … expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the League is based, and is lawful.” It’s debatable whether the NFL’s practice of allowing unconvicted players to keep their jobs honors the presumption of innocence, or exploits it.

Regarding the inclusion of accusations from groping to rape, Morrissey says, “It doesn’t matter where on the spectrum it falls. It’s a disregard for women. There’s an attitude that treats women like walking [sex toys].”

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Broadly plans to keep the page current, and has already identified additional cases that were initially overlooked. The feature is part of the site’s “NFL Report” initiative, which will include wide-ranging reporting and commentary on pro football’s attitude toward women.

“Maybe people were a little bit nervous that the NFL would really come after us,” Morrissey says, “and I understand that.” When contacted before publication, however, league officials did not appear as anxious as other institutions might, Morrissey says.   

“It’s more disheartening to me that they actually didn’t give a fuck,” she explains. “They think they’re untouchable, and maybe they are. They’re an elephant, and we’re a gnat.” 

The “44 players” project didn’t make a huge splash online. Broadly’s most popular posts are usually about sex. Morrissey says she wasn’t fixated on impact; she does, however, at least hope players’ Wikipedia pages will incorporate this information.

Maybe the NFL is an elephant, but its permissive attitude toward gender-based abuse shouldn’t be the elephant in the room. 

Correction: This article originally quoted Morrissey saying “we’re a net” instead of “we’re a gnat.” We regret the error. 

Danny Funt is a senior editor at The Week and a former CJR Delacorte Fellow. Follow him on Twitter at @dannyfunt