As I watch the NFL’s player punishment apparatus spinning ever faster as it hands out random punishments to players who have perpetrated domestic violence and child abuse, I think of what Rodimus Prime of The Black Guy Who Tips podcast has said about the situation: it’s a witch hunt. There’s a lot about the NFL’s current troubles that doesn’t remind me of those witch hunts. But I was surprised to find the comparison apt in some crucial respects.
Witch trials in countries with strong central governments, such as France and England, tended to be slow and bureaucratic; the structures of government required enough due process and protections for defendants to keep the kill rate down. But in Germany, which was a collection of about 300 independent principalities, the death toll reached about 26,000, higher than the number of deaths in the rest of continental Europe combined. German judges considered witchcraft an exceptional crime, immune to the strictures of due process: all you needed to prove association was one accusing witness.
It always started out the same way. People started casting glances at a woman who fit the profile: she would be old, poor, and ragged. She was a social outcast. She had no family. The people of the community would accuse her, and she would be tortured until she confessed and gave her inquisitors the names of other witches. Then, the mob gathered in celebration as she was burned to death. When all of the old women were gone, the community would start investigating other leads. A baby or a mother would die in childbirth, implicating the midwife. Ladies started reporting their servant women. Each witch tortured produced a new crop of names, and just the accusation was enough. The “witch profile” stopped being important to the mob in their frenzy. Old men started dying. Teenage girls. Prominent women. Eventually, the community found itself burning their mayor at the stake, as well as their children and their pets. Once people realized how far they’d strayed from the witch profile, they seemed to realize they’d gone too far, the witch hunts would stop for a while. Until they started again.
When the NFL punished Ray Rice for the second time for the same offense, they reminded all observers that, for them, there’s no such thing as due process or protections against double jeopardy. The NFL punishes players according to the whims of Roger Goodell, even if his first whim’s punishment has already been carried out. Recall that Roger Goodell made himself famous for being the commissioner who would control these (majority black) players, by meting out harsh punishments to stop them from committing crimes that scare white people, like dogfighting and drugs. So, because Roger Goodell felt particularly embarrassed by the video of Ray Rice punching his fiance (even though it presented no new information whatsoever), Ray Rice had to go. The NFL started levying fines and suspensions on other black players who had pending domestic violence cases, or recent domestic violence convictions, ostensibly to stay consistent with its suspension of Rice. Then, these punishments expanded to Adrian Peterson’s child abuse case, currently pending in court, with its first hearing in October. The Vikings went so far as to reinstate Peterson, only to reverse their decision a day later when a sponsor balked.
Recently we got the news that the focus had expanded to include Brandon Marshall of the Chicago Bears, who abused his girlfriend in several incidents in 2007-2008. No matter that he publicly disclosed that he had struggled with borderline personality disorder during that time. No matter that there’s no evidence he re-offended. Gloria Allred wants the NFL to do something about the fact that Marshall still has a job. Then news emerged that Jack Elway, John Elway’s son, was just sentenced for domestic violence. Jack Elway has never played NFL football, but his acts seem somehow imputed, in the public’s mind, to the NFL because of his father’s name. Is the profile for the NFL’s witch hunt starting to expand, with Marshall and, especially Elway (who is the only white man on this list so far)? Will it take punishing white players for the mob to finally realize it has gone too far, and force the NFL to institute some meaningful procedural safeguards for players accused of crimes? Or will the league keep punishing athletes according to what Roger Goodell ate for breakfast?
There’s one twist to this comparison: can it really be called a witch hunt, given that the players involved so far actually did abuse their family members? I still say it can. Domestic violence is real but the NFL’s current outrage over domestic violence is spun of the purest organic bullshit. The haphazard approach the NFL is taking to punishing perpetrators of violence against women and kids (so far, only black men) actually proves that the organization does not care about fixing the problem. If it cared, the NFL would meet with the player’s union and craft a process it can use across the board in the future in response to accusations of domestic violence (and rape, Big Ben). That response would give the players a measure of due process before losing their jobs, respect the court system’s determinations of guilt and innocence, and refrain from forcing survivors to relive their abuse on the NFL’s schedule. Instead, the league is spinning, going after every moving target in order to hang on to their own power. The question is, at what point will the mob stop helping them?
Thanks to @GladysMcGee and @MTFIII for helping me clarify my thoughts.