By Sarah Maraniss Vander Schaaff

I don’t have an answer to the question many women are asking about their relationship with the NFL. I cannot say, however, that I ever assumed that the NFL particularly valued women. The fact that the most prominent women on the field are cheerleaders, who are paid $500-$700 per season but reportedly generate one million dollars in revenue, has something to do with that. We can rightfully lambast the way the league disciplines its players who’ve broken the law, not only with violence against women but also other offenses.

But the sport is violent, and instead of focusing on how the league handles what happens after a player has assaulted a woman, I’d like to know how they work with players to help them leave the violence on the field.

On Friday, Commissioner Goodell sent a memo to clubs addressing this topic, mentioning he met with, “senior representatives of the U.S. Army regarding the military’s approach to addressing issues of misconduct, including the provision of support services to families and victims.”

This makes a lot of sense.  In her book, Cyber Overload, Dr. Joanne Cantor writes about the “mirror neurons” in the brain that “pre-practice” any activity we watch, “making us ready to perform that behavior ourselves.”

She also describes what she calls the popular expression in neuroscience, “neurons that fire together, wire together,” stating that “the effects of practice are not fleeting. We can establish and strengthen enduring neural pathways simply by watching other people.”

I’m not going to be an armchair scientist and speculate on the ways in which this relates directly to players and to fans, or how aspects of football have comparisons with the military.

But it’s clear the NFL is turning to others for help by seeking advice from law enforcement and the military and partnering with the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

My six-year-old recently came into the den one night while my husband and I were watching Thursday Night football. She looked at the TV and asked us,  “Which side are we on?” Then she said, “They are all men.”

“Yes,” I said.

But I had a card up my sleeve, something I’d read about a few weeks before that made me happy in a way more powerful than I’d expected.

“You know The Pennington School?” I asked her, referring to an independent school in the area and one at which I used to teach.

“Their football team as a girl kicker.”

It was true. An athlete who started playing soccer at the age of 4, Sabrina Tucci is now the first female on the team. The story in quotes the quarterback, senior Greg Oldsey saying: “She’s doing a great job. I love having her on the team… She’s not a distraction at all. People forget this is a game of specialists, and she’s a specialist. It doesn’t matter how she looks, what gender she is or anything. She’s no fluke. I appreciate her.’’

Perhaps that NFL might want to pay attention to that.

Photo Credit: click here.



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