I went through a painful break-up two years ago. It was my choice to end the relationship; I did it abruptly with a clean cut and we have never reunited. However, at this time every year, all the memories (both exquisite and torturous) come boiling back to the surface.
I suppose life would be easier if I did not spend so much time watching news and sports or follow so many sports enthusiasts on twitter. Seemingly everywhere I turn, I receive updates on my ex-boyfriend.
My reasons for leaving this soulless mongrel were sound: There was no sympathy; egoism was taking control, and worst of all, there was a blatant disregard for and degradation of women. Looking back, it’s disgusting I put up with it for so long. But nonetheless, the truth is clear: I gave a piece of my heart to the National Football League; it was shattered into a million pieces and now I must learn to heal on my own.
I came out of the womb a Chicago Bears fan (there was no alternative in the Quisenberry household), but I did not become a maniacal super fan until my late teens. The relationship was a force greater than myself and I reveled in the euphoria and anguish of uniting a part of my soul with the Bears.
I moved to Chicago in 2005, and shortly thereafter, I joined a friend’s weekly confidence pool. The relationship blossomed as I started tracking every team, listening to analyses and keeping an eye on players’ stats. I came out a winner at least one week out of each season and bought a pair of boots with my earnings — Boyfriends don’t get much better than that!
Despite all the reverie, the relationship would hit rough patches, and at times, I felt ashamed… As though I was jeopardizing my values and principles to be a part of it.
I was becoming increasingly aware of the concussion epidemic and the long-term effects such injuries were having on players. Dave Duerson’s suicide was one of the first to grab my attention.When he killed himself with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest in 2011, he left a note behind requesting his brain be studied. In 2012 Ray Easterling, Junior Seau and Jovan Belcher all killed themselves after being mentally tortured by concussion-related injuries. Each man was posthumously diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Belcher took his life in front of his coach after shooting and killing his girlfriend in front of her mother.
Despite these recurring horrors, I continued with the battered relationship. I made trivial rationales and convinced myself the NFL is working to right these wrongs.
Then, I learned the awful truths about NFL cheerleaders.
Many NFL cheerleaders are paid less than minimum wage with little to no compensation for practices, team meetings, workouts and photo shoots. Generally, the women are responsible for covering their travel costs and purchasing accessories such as make up, nail polish and tanning sessions. Pay can be docked if their nails are the wrong color or their uniform appears unkempt. Cheerleaders have been told not to eat while in uniform and not to discuss religion or politics while dining at team events. It’s been widely reported some squads are advised on how to properly clean their vaginas.
The Buffalo Bills have gone so far as to subject their cheerleaders to a “jiggle test” to assess their body’s firmness before given the green light to cheer. Worse yet, the women can be sold at auction and forced to spend a day in uniform cozying up to their highest bidder — some rich misogynist works on his golf swing as an NFL cheerleader applauds from his cart. The cheerleaders typically do not receive compensation for these events.
After learning about the cheerleaders, I considered ending the relationship. But time passed, September rolled around and I needed to submit my picks for Week One of the confidence pool. I was powerless against the game’s seduction. And in a city like Chicago the thrill was infectious; I could talk shop with any neighbor, condo employee, cab driver or stranger on the street. I rationalized my decision to stay by telling myself, “At least the Bears don’t have cheerleaders.”
Then, Ray Rice came along.
On Feb. 19, 2014, a video surfaced of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée, Janay Palmer, by the shoulders and dropping her at an elevator door in the Revel Hotel and Casino.
In the days and weeks that followed, the NFL assured the public Ray Rice was not in jeopardy of losing his job.
“You guys know his character, so you start with that,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Ravens owner, Steve Bisciotti, stressed Rice’s “goodwill” with the team and the community.
When NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, was asked if there would be any disciplinary action taken against Rice, he said, “We will let the facts dictate that.”
Rice is dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator and dropping her on the ground. Police said they obtained a video that showed him knocking her out.
How many more facts were needed?
The league held a disciplinary hearing four months after the incident and determined Rice would serve a two-game suspension. However, one month later, on Aug. 28, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he “didn’t get it right” with Rice’s suspension and made drastic changes to the league’s domestic violence policy. Under the new terms, a six-game suspension without pay will be applied to the first offense, and a lifetime ban for a second offense.
The timing of Goodell’s announcement was convenient — the full elevator video was released 11 days thereafter.
In the video, Rice punches Palmer in the face, knocking her to the ground unconscious. He attempts to pick her up and drag her out the door, but does not make it in time and drops her to the ground. He picks her up again, drags her by the shoulders and drops her at the door. Her buttocks and panties are exposed. Rice attempts to shove her legs together with his foot, but her limb falls lifelessly to its original position. A man approaches and Rice engages in conversation before shaking Palmer and propping her up against the elevator door. She slowly regains consciousness and Rice returns to his conversation. Palmer is distraught on the floor; eventually a stranger comes to console her.
The contents gutted me. I promptly ended my relationship with the NFL, and I have not watched a game or endorsed a team since.
I was defiant in my stance and had support from women all over the country. The hashtags spread across social media — #GoodellMustGo, #BoycottNFL— and I joined the battle cries. It felt as though women were banding together against this atrocity, and I suddenly became aware of how vital women are to football in America.
We cook and grocery shop on a grand scale for game days and Super Bowl parties. We purchase PINK branded apparel, cute jerseys and bedazzled hats. Girls will joyfully run out to buy a fashionable top to wear to the bar on game day. And when Christmas time rolls around, women spend vast amounts of money on NFL gear and accessories for the football fans in their lives.
What would happen if women refused to shop for or endorse anything pertaining to football, football parties or the NFL? What would games look like if women stopped attending? What type of reverberations would be felt if the cheerleaders went silent?
It was time to start a movement.
However, as the weeks and months ticked by, the calls to arms softened and Ray Rice faded to the back of minds. My movement was an illusion; I became a lone wolf in my crusade.
I am a ravenous sports fan, and when I commit to a team or individual athlete, I am all in — I curse, cry and have near blackouts from the intensity. For 15 years I was devoted to my dear Chicago Bears and I absorbed the game with fervor. It was difficult to let my love go, but I had to leave before my moral compass was completely shattered.
The past two years have been a difficult adjustment. I used to love starting off the weekend with a great Thursday night game. I miss the buzz I felt on Sunday mornings and the tingle of anticipation before a tough Monday night matchup. All the men in my life are football fanatics — it was a shame to lose that line of dialogue with them. And it is hard not to feel lonely on Super Bowl Sunday.
On top of everything, football has become ubiquitous. It is America’s favorite pastime (sorry baseball, but it’s true) and provides the perfect backdrop for a cozy afternoon or evening. For me, game days were always soothing — I found equal pleasure watching games by myself as I did with one other person or an entire room full of people and a smorgasbord of food and alcohol.
But such were the sacrifices I was willing to make.
Despite the void and the perpetual temptation to go back, I remain steadfast in my resolve. The relationship was fun for many years, but it turned dysfunctional. At least I found the strength to leave and am walking away with a suitcase full of memories and an emboldened sense of self-reliance.