Examining the Culture of the NFL

jpegBy: Ashley Sethi

Recent events involving the NFL and its’ players have brought about renewed discussion about NFL discipline on players. The NFL’s Superbowl is the most popular sports event in America. The last Superbowl attracted a record breaking 111.5 million viewers. [1] The culture of the NFL has always been misogynistic and aggressive. There hasn’t been any secrecy in the media or by league members about this concept. It’s fair to assume that there will be tension in an environment where stakes are high and competitiveness and heavy physical conflict is happening. There are consequently some problems that arise through the aggressive culture that the NFL has created. Problems with homophobia and NFL players who are abusive have sparked controversy in recent years and raised questions as to whether the league conducts itself ethically or not.

When players act unethically outside the field and that behaviour is tolerated the values of the league are compromised. By-standing players and fans are uncomfortable. The environment of a sports league is supposed to be competitive but also fair and a safe space for the players. It’s important for players to feel accepted among their teammates and coaches so that the entire team can achieve a great bond. I can say this myself as a team athlete. I have found in Cheerleading that the communicating that comes along with teamwork forms strong friendships that will outlast the time that my team members and I spend competing together. The accepting and cohesive team environment is what I enjoy the most about cheerleading. I can’t imagine players on my team being bullied for being homosexual or being openly abusive. If players are bullied, for being homosexual for example, and are made to feel unwelcome in the locker and dressing room or on the field by coaches or teammates it compromises the standard of ethics that should be adhered to by all members of the league. There has been a history of this type of behaviour in the NFL. Jonathan Vilma recently publicly expressed his discomfort with taking a shower with a player who was homosexual. A former Minnesota Vikings Player named Chris Kluwe is pressing charges on the NFL that he was wrongfully discharged for publicly supporting gay marriage. Kluwe also claims he witnessed assistant coach Mike Priefer exclaim, “we should round up the gays and nuke them.” [2]This type of homophobic and violent open dialect is poisonous to the morality of the cultures. This type of behaviour creates an uncomfortable environment for players, in my opinion. As an athlete I feel if I were being discriminated against my performance would ultimately suffer as a result of feeling self conscious and nervous.

Michael Sam has recently sparked controversy as coming out as the first openly gay NFL football player. He was recently waived from the practice squad of the Dallas Cowboys although coaches claim it’s nothing personal. [3]However, it’s openly known that it probably is somewhat personal. The league is still not fully comfortable with openly gay men and players and coaches struggle with the presence of gay men. It has been a well known truth that homophobia is mostly ignored by officials. Sexual orientation is taken into account when coaches are deciding whether a player is worth it or not. This creates discriminatory homophobia that seems to be ingrained in the culture of the league.


First openly gay NFL player


Ray rice has become the new poster child for domestic violence in the NFL as a result of a heavily publicized video of him knocking his wife out in an elevator. I have personally seen the video and have already read about Rice and the NFL official’s reaction. The video entitled “Ray Rice Knocks out Fiancée” posted on TMZ’s YouTube channel has10, 108,856 views as of today, November 11. Initially the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goddell, claimed that he hadn’t seen the video. CNN reported that Goddell found out about the video through a personal meeting with Rice where Rice confessed fully and told him it would never happen again. Rice was first suspended for two games. A new policy was initiated shortly after. First time offenders will now be suspended for six times and if it happens a second time players will risk being indefinitely suspended. [4]

After the video of Rice came out his coach and team stood behind him. His wife even stood behind him and publicly apologized for her role in the incident. Ravens head coach Harbaugh was also supportive. He told reporters “I stand behind Ray, he’s a heckuva guy. He’s done everything right since. He makes a mistake. He’s going to have to pay a consequences.”[5]

Ray Rice Press Conference

Ray Rice Press Conference Accompanied by his wife

Rice entered a pretrial intervention program this past May and consequently will have his aggravated assault charges expunged from his record within the year. He’s been suspended from the league. Although Rice is being heavily punished it could be easily argued that he is being used as a poster child for behaviour that has occurred behind closed doors for years and has been brushed under the rug by officials.

The answer to the question of whether the NFL league creates an accepting environment successfully does not hinge on whether these incidences occur or not but rather in the way that members of the league react to them. I think it matters if criminal behaviour is swept under the rug. I also agree with the NFL’s new notion that second time offenders should be indefinitely suspended from the league. It will be interesting to see what the follow through holds for inevitable future incidences similar to Rice’s.

These men have the privilege of being in the public eye and of also being role models for a new generation of young boys who admire them and aspire to be like them. The NFL is the most profitable sports league in existence. The owners should create a standard of ethics for players and coaches that create an environment that reflect modern day ideas of sexuality and respect for others. The last NFL season brought in 6 billion dollars in revenue. The teams will divide that number equally amongst themselves.[6]

Considering these staggering statistics I believe it is fair to say that the roles of league members bear a large responsibility. Perhaps recent events will initiate discussion about holding players and coaches to higher ethical standards than they have been in the past.




[6] Darren Rovell. “NFL Teams Split $6B In revenue.” ESPN. ESPN Internet Ventures, 10 July 2014. Web. 10 Nov. 2014.

[5] Botelho, Greg. “Ray Rice Case: Did NFL Execs Know the Truth Earlier?” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

[4] Martinez, Michael, Jill Martin, and Greg Botelho. “NFL’s past Penalties for Domestic Violence ‘a Different Story'” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

[3] “Michael Sam Cut by Rams as Rookie Doesn’t Survive Final Cuts.” NY Daily News. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

[2] Signorile, Michelangelo. “Will Michael Sam Save the NFL From Its Homophobia?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 10 Feb. 2014. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

[1] “UPDATE: Fox’s Super Bowl Scores With Record-Breaking 111.5 Million Viewers; Bruno Mars Halftime Show Shatters Madonna’s Record.” Deadline. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2014.

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