December 2, 2014

Be More Than The NFL

The Canadian Football League is different from the National Football League in many ways. For starters, we play with a different ball, on a larger field, and only have three attempts to advance 10 yards each possession. Our league only has nine teams to the NFLs 32 and unlike the lucrative contracts and lavish lifestyles associated with their American counterparts, most CFL players are told not to quit their day job.

However, while enjoying a recent BC Lions home game I was struck by perhaps the greatest difference between these leagues: the BC Lions partnership with The Ending Violence Associations Be More Than a Bystander campaign.Granted, the campaign is not a CFL-wide partnership, but I propose it may have an equitable effect given the structure of Canadian football. At the very least, the campaigns presence on the sidelines and Jumbotron at BC Place sits in stark contrast with the NFLs gross-mishandling of recent cases of domestic violence perpetuated by its players.

This season, the NFL has been wrought with players charged with domestic violence – the most famed perpetrator being Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. The NFL faced intense scrutiny after evidence arose they had seen video-evidence of Rice brutally assaulting his then fiancé in an Atlantic City casino-elevator. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially claimed ignorance to the footage and degree of the assault, and was forced to backpedal on Rices paltry two-game suspension after the video was leaked to the public.

Whether Goodells claim not to have seen the footage prior to its public release is true is largely irrelevant; Rices initial suspension demonstrates the NFL was aware of the assault. What is most concerning is why the incident was not immediately understood as a crime. Should seeing the video, the degree of brutality, have truly mattered? Is there a necessary degree of violence to warrant legitimate sanction? Rices initial punishment stops just short of the League openly condoning sexualized violence; at the very least, it would have set a precedent of blind-eye and allowed further distancing of these issues. The NFL is, in many ways, guilty of maintaining the cultural space which systematically operates to perpetuate domestic violence.

And so, while watching the Lions win against Ottawa, I wondered how Be More Than a Bystander might influence the CFLs management of an incident like Ray Rice? Given an entire team in a 9-team league has committed to ending violence against women, does such a campaign force a League (-wide) conscience? Surely the Lions partnership should mean that any leniency towards a case of violence would be considered unacceptable from the outset?

Appearing alongside sponsor logos and other advertisements at BC Place, the campaign has certainly been integrated into the Lions commercial ethos. And, in such a small league, this endorsement arguably extends beyond the sidelines of BC Place to influence the greater business (and hopefully character) of the CFL. At the very least, Be More Than a Bystander centers and confronts the issue of violence against women in the context of Canadian football. Mismanagement and distancing of transgressions, like the NFL of Ray Rice, would be inadmissible. The campaign identifies such incidents as crimes, generates awareness and dialogue about consent, and instills within the administration, team, and fans a better understanding of the issue. Combined, these elements redefine the culture of Canadian football to set a standard for violence prevention and action against perpetrators. There is an immediate accountability to the cause, and an expectation of appropriate management of any instances of violence.





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