The NFL has little respect for women; increasing female leadership could change that

By Meera Dahiya

When I first opened the Bleacher Report app to read a headline of the Antonio Brown allegations, my stomach dropped. A former New England Patriots wide receiver had been accused of sexual assault, but he continued to play without consequence until the Patriots organization released him. When I found out about the league’s treatment — or lack thereof — of this incident, I wasn’t upset because a star member of my favorite football team might not be able to play; I was angry because the NFL was allowing a potential rapist to continue to play with no repercussions.

This isn’t an isolated incident: Kansas City Chiefs running back Tyreek Hill entered the league after choking and punching his pregnant girlfriend in 2015, and Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice only received a two-game suspension after a video of him beating his fiancee in an elevator surfaced in 2014. With each new allegation, I’m taken aback at how little respect for women the NFL displays. The league’s tolerance of domestic violence, sexual harassment and assault can make female fans feel alienated. The league needs to increase gender diversity in management positions to tackle this issue.

Although the NFL began conducting an investigation shortly after Brown was accused, he shouldn’t have been allowed to play during the investigation. While some football fans claim that players should be considered “innocent until proven guilty,” the NFL has contradicted this principle before; for example, with no concrete evidence, the league suspended Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for four weeks under the suspicion of him deflating footballs during a game. In light of recent events, it appears that, to the NFL, deflating footballs is more severe than sexual assault.

It also seems like the league holds domestic violence to a lesser degree than other violations. The NFL suspended Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman for four games after using performance-enhancing drugs. Rice, who abused his girlfriend, only received a two-game suspension. Domestic violence should hold a harsher punishment than using steroids — something that doesn’t directly harm others. 

The NFL’s disrespect for females goes beyond punishment for players; cheerleaders have reported harassment on multiple occasions. In 2009, the Bengals cheerleaders were expected to be within three pounds of an “ideal weight.”

It’s possible that the league’s disrespect for women stems from the lack of diversity in team leadership. In 2018, only 35% of the league office consisted of women, and that number drops to 28% for vice-president positions or higher, according to ESPN. 

Without gender diversity, the league struggles to understand how its decisions impact women. With more women managing the league, punishments will likely more justly fit accusations and wrongdoings because female managers may be able to better sympathize with other women. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell even admitted that no female contributed to the decision to suspend Ray Rice for only two games. 

A more diverse management staff will also prevent female employees, like cheerleaders, team staff and officials, from harassment. When gender diversity in the workplace increases, women are less likely to face harassment at work; around half of women who describe their workplace as male dominant cite sexual harassment as a problem at work, while only 32% of women in mostly female workplaces say the same, according to Pew Research Center. The NFL tolerates sexual harassment far too often. Increasing gender diversity could change that.

Growing up as a die-hard football fan, my allegiance to the NFL has been tested many times. If the NFL wants to keep fans like me watching football every Sunday, it’s time for the NFL to increase gender diversity.