By lionizing Jim Brown, NFL and Roger Goodell show contempt for women yet again | Opinion
Hall of Fame RB Jim Brown has faced half a dozen allegations of either domestic abuse or rape, or both, yet Roger Goodell made Brown sound like the NFL’s version of Mother Teresa.
| USA TODAY
Next time the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell brag about how supportive they are of women, touting the number of female executives and coaches the league has, pull out the press release on Jim Brown.
You know, the Hall of Fame running back who was accused of either domestic violence or rape, or both, a half-dozen times, including one instance in which he allegedly threw a woman off a balcony. The one Goodell lionized Thursday night by saying, “It’s hard to think of a player who has impacted the game and society as much as Jim Brown.”
Oh, I’m sure there are plenty of people in society impacted by Jim Brown. Women left cut and bruised, their emotional scars remaining long after the physical ones healed.
“This award is our way of ensuring that recognition of Jim’s impact on the NFL and society continues forever,” Goodell said in the release announcing that the award for most yards rushing in a season will now be the “Jim Brown Award.”
And a pointed reminder of how little regard the NFL has for women.
Brown’s history of violence is not some secret. It’s been written about many, many, many times – and not simply because he was accused of it many, many, many times. Brown himself acknowledged slapping women, writing in his book, Out of Bounds, “I don’t start fights, but sometimes I don’t walk away from them.” It’s prompted debate about whether Brown is worthy of being considered among the NFL’s greatest players, what affect it should have on his legacy.
All the NFL communications staff had to do was Google, and they’d have realized canonizing Brown as football’s version of Mother Teresa probably wasn’t the best choice. Goodell could have edited the words attributed to him, too, for that matter.
Yet none of them did. Because they don’t care. They never have and they never will.
It’s been almost a decade since that ugly video surfaced of Ray Rice beating his now-wife unconscious in an elevator, prompting so much supposed soul-searching by Goodell and the NFL. Yet here we are again. The pain and suffering of women marginalized, their very presences erased, because it’s easier than holding a man accountable for his failings. Less messy than acknowledging we’ve been wrong in making mortals into gods.
This isn’t about the award itself – though Barry Sanders or Emmitt Smith would seem to be a more appropriate choice for this one. The NFL could even have noted the work Brown has done for civil rights if it felt it must.
But to champion Brown as some kind of hero is as brutal a blow as the ones he was repeatedly accused of delivering. Words matter. The impressions we create of people matter. Celebrating Brown the way Goodell and the NFL did Thursday night makes those who don’t know his whole history, and maybe even some who do, believe he is someone to emulate rather than a cautionary tale.
“His role as a leader off the field showed his unwavering strength and commitment to the community,” Josh Jacobs, the first recipient of the Jim Brown Award, said in the NFL’s release. “Jim’s impact can be felt today and his legacy continues through everyone that strives to make a difference.”
Oh, Brown’s legacy continues all right. Goodell and the NFL might not be laying hands on women as Brown and other players have, but their indifference to that kind of cruelty and harm does damage just the same.
Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.
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