Look, I get it.
I get why so many American sports news outlets have paid enormous, even obsessive, attention to Deflategate. (If you’re not familiar with this ongoing story, here’s a quick primer.) This has been especially true since Monday, when the National Football League (NFL) judged megastar Tom Brady to be guilty of a quarterback sneak around the rules. It’s because Brady is more bejeweled, as in Super Bowl championship rings, than any other quarterback of his generation, with four titles to his name. It’s because he’s got stereotypical good looks, a portfolio of fashion brand endorsements, and supermodel-among-supermodels Gisele Bündchen as his wife. It’s because his team, the New England Patriots, has been caught breaking the rules before, yet is still the most successful football franchise of the 21st century. Brady’s substantial punishment (a four-game suspension) and the severe penalty slapped on his club (a record $1 million fine and the loss of two future draft picks, one of them a first-rounder) fuels even more coverage. And, of course, fans themselves are “tuning in” and “clicking on” with gusto, driving even more attention to the controversy.
But the pumped-up coverage of Deflategate comes at a great cost. It crowds out a sustained discussion of more important issues, including violence against women by athletes.
Last year, many sports news organizations did well by giving significant coverage and discussion to the domestic violence scandals that rocked the NFL. It was the most intense focus on gender-based violence in American sports media since the O. J. Simpson trial two decades ago. A number of sports journalists did outstanding work in shining a light on the sexism and misogyny plaguing high-profile American sports.
But most sports news networks, websites, reporters, and talk show hosts have moved on, while violence against women by prominent athletes continues unabated. A handful of journalists, mostly women, continue to direct public attention to the issue. (See the work of Kavitha Davidson of Bloomberg View; Jane McManus, Sarah Spain, and Kate Fagan of espnW; and Jessica Luther, who writes for several orgs, including VICE Sports.) But the average sports fan misses out on their voices due to the competing tidalwave of Deflategate chatter.
And it’s not like there aren’t incidents of such violence to talk about. A new story pops up on a near-daily basis. Here’s just a partial list of germane news events occurring since the Deflategate controversy surfaced, shortly after the Jan. 18, 2015 AFC Championship Game:
- Guilty verdicts are handed down in the rape trial of two former Vanderbilt football players.
- The University of Oregon and its men’s head basketball coach countersue in response to allegations they mishandled sexual assaults by three former players.
- Duke University basketball player Rasheed Sulaimon is kicked off the team due to allegations of sexual assault, becoming the first player that legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski has ever dismissed at Duke. Later, Sulaimon announces his transfer to an Atlantic Coast Conference rival, the University of Maryland.
- Florida State University quarterback and 2013 Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is:
- Accused publicly by a former FSU student, Erica Kinsman, of rape in the widely-seen documentary The Hunting Ground (*trigger warning*).
- Sued by Kinsman, with the suit stating the existence of a second accuser against Winston.
- Selected first in the NFL draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- Named as the plaintiff in a countersuit against Kinsman.
- Called an “embarrassment” by legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden.
- The NFL’s Dallas Cowboys sign defensive standout Greg Hardy, who served what amounted to a paid domestic violence-related suspension for nearly all of the 2014 season while a member of the Carolina Panthers; later, the NFL concludes its independent investigation of Hardy by suspending him for the first ten games of the 2015 season.
- The NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Buffalo Bills also come under scrutiny for drafting players recently accused of violence against women. Among veteran players, a member of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers is arrested for spousal battery, while a 2014 member of the NFL’s New York Jets is arrested for posting so-called “revenge porn” online.
- Former NFL defensive star Darren Sharper is sentenced to nine years in prison for nine charges relating to sexual assaults in four states.
- Sports Illustrated publishes a searing article on former MLB All-Star Milton Bradley (*trigger warning*), and how his abuse of his wife led to her death.
- espnW’s Jane McManus writes an equally affecting account of model and adult film star Christy Mack’s experience (*trigger warning*) of nearly being beaten to death by her ex-boyfriend, former MMA fighter Jon “War Machine” Koppenhaver.
- Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (*trigger warning*), written by bestselling author Jon Krakauer, is published; the 384-page nonfiction work focuses on sexual assaults perpetrated by members of the University of Montana football team.
- Leading up to the “Fight of the Century” between boxers Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, a campaign arises on social media to boycott the bout due to Mayweather’s multiple domestic violence convictions and his unrepentant, even defiant, stance on the incidents. Potential fight viewers are encouraged to donate the money that would go to pay-per-view to abuse shelters instead. The day before the fight, at least three journalists who have been critical of Mayweather’s abusive behavior have their press credentials revoked by Mayweather’s camp. And just days after the fight, the mother of Mayweather’s three children, Josie Harris, files a defamation lawsuit against him.
- Former National Basketball Association (NBA) star Isiah Thomas, who in 2007 was found by a federal jury to have sexually harassed a New York Knicks employee when he was the Knicks’ head coach and general manager, is hired by Knicks owner James Dolan to oversee his Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) franchise, the New York Liberty. Days later, Thomas applies for partial ownership of the Liberty.
There’s no shortage of such things that sports news and talk outlets could cover more thoroughly, in order to keep a spotlight on the problem of gender-based violence in American sports and society. Isn’t that more consequential than whether rules about football air pressure were broken? And if so, don’t sports media organizations and their employees have a responsibility to keep public attention focused on the physical, emotional, verbal, and sexual violence by prominent athletes against women and girls, until deep, systemic change occurs?
But given today’s news that Brady will fight his suspension, the media focus on Deflategate promises to maintain its intensity for months to come.
That is, unless more sports news outlets and journalists decide that there’s been enough hullabaloo over Brady and the Patriots, and that they instead need to spend more time and energy talking about gender-based violence.
They’ll be the ones who get it.
UPDATE: Milton Bradley, who had remained free while appealing his June 2013 conviction for beating his wife Monique, was sentenced on May 11 to 32 months in prison. Ironically, that was the same day the NFL handed down Brady’s four-game suspension. Imbalanced coverage, perhaps? At the time of her death in September 2013, Monique Bradley was 33 years old.
Eugene Hung writes the Raising Asian American Daughters blog for Asiance, and serves as the lead L.A.-area organizer for Man Up Campaign, which mobilizes young people worldwide, and especially young men and boys, to stop gender-based violence and to advance gender equality. Follow him on Twitter at @eughung.