This article contains a trigger warning due to its frank discussion of rape and sexual assault.
In 2010, Darren Sharper was the hero of New Orleans: an All-Pro safety who led the Saints to Super Bowl glory. Now retired and working for the NFL Network, Darren Sharper has been formally charged with multiple sexual assaults and is suspected to have raped at least nine women across five states. In California, he has been arrested and charged with drugging the drinks of two women before raping them. His bail was not only set at $1 million but Judge Renee Korn ordered that a condition of his release would be a legal agreement to not be alone with women he didn’t know before October 30. Korn said, “The court considers these crimes quite serious and has to evaluate the protection of the public.”
This news comes on the heels of the online release of video that shows Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée Janay Palmer out of a casino elevator. Police have said that they have footage of Rice physically assaulting Ms. Parker as well.
Sharper’s story has been, according to my own surveying of the top-rated national programs, almost entirely absent from sports radio and Rice’s story has received far greater coverage only insofar as his “legal troubles” affect his future playing prospects. Ravens Coach John Harbaugh has said, “I haven’t seen anything that would remotely make me think” that Rice would not be on the team this fall. This kind of response is all too typical. The news would have been if Harbaugh had said otherwise.
Both the Sharper and Rice stories raise a blaring question: At what point do the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell confront the constant, haunting league-wide presence of violence against women? In 2012, after Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his child, before taking his own life, Justin Peters at Slate determined, in the aftermath, that twenty-one of thirty-two NFL teams had employed a player that year “with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record.” There is an argument that the actual rate of players accused of violence against women is lower than the national average, and therefore should not be considered a problem. This is hogwash. When one considers the underreporting of these instances, the ways in which our society blames victims and the resources NFL players and teams have at their disposal to make “problems” go away, statistics don’t really get us anywhere. I would also add that the NFL rightly saw the bullying culture in the Miami Dolphins locker room, even if it was atypical, as utterly unacceptable. Even one incident was one incident too many. In other words, even one instance of violence against women should be compelling the NFL to act. But instead, we get silence.