Where Have All the Heroes Gone? – Amanda S. Green
It’s the end of August and that means the beginning of football season. Here in Texas, that is almost as important as Christmas. Friday night lights. Saturday college games. Sunday in front of the TV watching the Cowboys or the Texans. It is also the time when so many parents look at the athletes and shake their heads, wondering how to explain to their children that the spoiled, overpaid boy-men are not who they should be looking up to.
Not every football player or athlete, for that matter, are bad role models. The problem for Dallas Cowboy fans is that we seem to start every season with at least a couple of our players either suspended or facing suspension for violating the NFL player conduct rules. It is often for violations of the substance abuse rules. These rules are, at best, out-of-date, especially with the easing of drug laws in many jurisdictions. But those rules aren’t the ones I have an issue with. Why? Because the players know the rules and know they can and will be tested. They should take the responsibility of making sure they aren’t in violation. It is a choice they make to partake of banned substances. (yes, I know there have been false positives. That’s why there is an appeals process.)
My issue comes with the NFL’s application of its provisions concerning violence against women. First of all, I’m thrilled the organization finally took a stand. There are few things I hate more than domestic violence of any sort. For too long, the NFL turned a blind eye to what some of its players and coaches were doing. That’s changed and not always in a good way.
I’m not going to say the NFL was wrong in suspending Zeke Elliott. Zeke is a supremely talented player and Dallas was lucky to land him. However, he is also a young man who has a lot of maturing to do before he really gets himself in trouble. A sports reporter the other day said it best. To paraphrase, he said Zeke had never faced any real challenges in his life before joining the NFL. So, instead of being taught the excesses he enjoyed – or at least fell into for whatever reason – were wrong, he was given a bye.
Now, after his first year in the NFL, he faces a six-game suspension. The investigation went on for approximately a year. He was accused of assaulting his now ex-girlfriend. Serious charges and charges that had to be taken seriously.
Except, I’m not sure Zeke realized just how serious his position was. During the investigation, he allegedly took part in a bar fight. He was caught on video pulling down the top of a woman’s shirt on a St. Patrick’s Day float. There were other incidents as well. None of which would make the NFL or its investigators lean toward giving him the benefit of the doubt.
Now, before you jump me and remind me that the police did not charge Zeke in the assault case that started this ball rolling, I know. It is one of my problems with the NFL’s decision. The police found conflicting evidence concerning the events and, allegedly, there are texts from the ex-girlfriend attempting to blackmail Zeke into paying her off or she would “ruin him”.
The NFL could silence much of the criticism with their decision where Zeke is concerned if they would point to specific reasons why they handed down the suspension instead of generalities. I know they aren’t held to the same level of proof as the state with regard to criminal charges. But, in many ways, this feels like a witchhunt, especially as some of the purported evidence against the ex-girlfriend comes to life.
Where I have a real problem with the NFL is with how it attacked the NFLPA (NFL Player’s Association). In a statement, it condemned the NFLPA for committing victim-blaming. This is something the NFLPA has vehemently denied. But whether it issued the statement the NFL claimed or not, the NFL’s statement brings to light something that is dangerous – the trend to assume guilt whenever a woman claims a man assaulted her in any way.
I have no idea whether or not Zeke laid hands on this woman. I do know, both as someone who used to work in law enforcement and as someone who has read our Constitution, that a person is presumed innocent and it is up to the state to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the charges against him. I also know the accused has the right to confront his accusers.
There have been no charges filed against Zeke. For whatever reasons, the authorities decided they did not have enough to prove their case. The NFL, as a business entity, has the right to demand its players (employees) conform to a standard of behavior that was negotiated with the NFLPA. But, when they announce a player is being suspended for some reason, that player has the right to defend himself against those charges.
In this case, there appears to be evidence that there is more to the story about what happened than we, the public, have been told. If the woman in question tried to blackmail Zeke, he should be able to discuss it. Doing so is not victim shaming. It is laying out the facts for people so they can make an informed decision. Again, that is assuming the texts actually exist.
Victim shaming is when you say a woman asked to be raped because she was walking alone at night or because she dressed a certain way or because she wasn’t monogamous. It is saying a prostitute can’t be raped because she sells sex for a living. It isn’t pointing out that the victim might not be a victim or that she might have exaggerated what happened and showing proof why.
Sexual assault is one of the worst crimes anyone can fall victim to. But by claiming that a woman must always be believed when she accuses someone of raping her is to make a mockery of our justice system. There are times when no rape occurred. There have been times when the couple had consensual sex and then, when family members found out, the woman – or her family – claimed rape. There have been times when the woman filed a false claim to get back at the man. These times aren’t anywhere near as numerous as actual rapes, but the fact they exist means we have to give the accused the same presumption of innocence we give any other person accused of a crime.
It is easy, however, to understand how some woman – and men, too – want to change the way we view sexual offenses. After all, there were years when a woman was made to feel like being raped was her fault. The stance of the media to keep a victim’s name out of their reports was well-meant but it made things secret and that builds suspicion in so the minds of so many. Whether they’d admit it or not, they subconsciously wondered why the woman would hide behind anonymity if the crime really happened.
The NFL can’t have it both ways. It can’t say it believes a player hit, or worse, a woman and not expect him to try to defend himself. It also should not drag out an investigation for a year and then expect the player not to defend himself. The time alone on the investigation gives the appearance that they kept it open long enough to dig up something that wasn’t part of the original investigation. Conversely, Zeke should have been mature enough to realize he needed to keep his nose clean and do so.
It is past time for the NFL and the NFLPA to start working with these young men coming into the league and suddenly having more money and fame than they’d ever dreamed possible. Whether through a mentoring program or financial advisors or someone with a baseball bat to hit them up the side of their heads when they step over the line, something has to be done. But the NFL also has to quit moving with the speed of molasses on the cold Alaska morning when coming to a decision.
Team owners have to quit giving these young men a pass simply because of their talent. At some point in time, if they aren’t careful, one of those owners will find himself in the position of being held civilly responsible for what a player did. Perhaps it is time the NFL start looking at how to deal with the enabling owners as well as coaches and players.
As fans and as parents, we bear the burden of teaching our kids not to repeat the mistakes these young men make. There are so many players in the NFL and in other sports who are good role models. It is up to us to look for them and then make sure our kids know about them. I would much rather my son look up to Dak Prescott than Zeke Elliott right now.
Where have all the heroes gone? They’re still there. They are the ones with their heads down, doing their jobs, being responsible adults and taking care of their families. We simply don’t hear about them because they don’t make headlines that sell.