Opinion

What to make of the NFL-domestic violence link

I never really bought the whole Mars/Venus explanation for the differences between men and women. I understand that our gender-driven instincts may not be entirely aligned, but different planets? Isn’t that a little extreme?

Then I read about a new study by PhDs David Card and Gordon Dahl. Between 1995 and 2006, Card and Dahl tracked the wins and losses of the following NFL teams: the Carolina Panthers, the New England Patriots, the Denver Broncos, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Detroit Lions and the Tennessee Titans. That makes them exactly like millions of football fans. But they did something else. They noted when the teams lost a game they were favored to win, and checked the reports of domestic violence in those cities on those dates.

Their research shows that domestic violence increases by about ten percent when a local NFL team loses a game they were supposed to win. A ten percent increase. Because of a football game, for God’s sake.

When a team unexpectedly loses to a “rival” team, the rise in domestic violence is even higher (20%).

But when a team is predicted to lose, and loses, women can breathe easier. The research indicated no measurable increase in reports of attacks against women when a team lost a game it was expected to lose.

And what if they played poorly? Also not good news. Card and Dahl found that if a local team was in playoff contention and had four or more sacks or turnovers in a game or lost 80 or more yards to penalties, domestic violence in the surrounding area would increase by 17%.

I don’t know what to think about this. It appears that some men get so mad when their football team unexpectedly loses that they beat up a woman because of it. What do they do when they have to deal with actual tragedies? Kill people?

I suppose the good news for the NFL is that the researchers claim that it’s broader-reaching than it appears. Any number of unexpected and disappointing events could result in the same kind of uptick in violence. A speeding ticket on the way home is probably enough to set some men off and result in an assault on the woman waiting at home.

I have a suggestion. The Madden NFL 2012 videogame producers have announced that the new version of their game will include players who suffer concussions and get sidelined. That added component may help young boys play the game more responsibly. It’s a “teaching tool” to illustrate the safest way to deal with this kind of injury.

The next version should have an additional “teaching tool” that includes a message about the loathsome, criminal, sickening behavior of any man who ever attacks a woman. Maybe it can remind men that it’s only a game; that the women in their lives may suffer concussions — or worse — at their hands if they can’t control themselves. Maybe if an NFL player looks straight into the camera and tells violent men to get some help, it will bring a moment of clarity to some. Not to all — no doubt. But since the NFL contributes to the problem, maybe it can contribute to the solution. Any drop in the sobering statistics reported by Card and Dahl counts as a win.

Renee James writes social commentary and keeps track of the things that mystify her on her blog: It’s not me, it’s you, found at reneeaj.blogspot.com. Her email address is [email protected].