If you were one of the expected 184 million Americans who saw the most-watched Super Bowl ever on Sunday, then you probably saw the 30 second anti-domestic violence PSA that aired during the first quarter. The PSA was created out of a partnership between the NFL and No More, a movement spearheaded by a group of corporations and advocacy organizations meant to raise awareness around the domestic violence crisis.
The PSA, which generated quite a buzz in the days leading up to its Super Bowl debut, featured a supposed real-life 911 call from a woman pretending to be ordering a pizza when in reality she was cleverly attempting to report a bout of domestic violence while her abuser lurked somewhere in the same room. Although we never got to see what the woman making the call looked like, it was fairly easy to tell from the way the camera crept around the couple’s moody apartment that something major had just gone down.
Missing the Mark
If the NFL wanted to hook the attention of—and inspire action among—the millions of amped up football fans chugging pints of Bud Light, gorging themselves on wings and nachos and perhaps drooling over Katy Perry’s half-time performance, then they needed to show more than just an apartment with a sink full of dirty dishes, a rumpled Oriental rug and an unmade bed.
As someone who had a violent, alcoholic stepfather, I know first-hand the dangers of being too subtle when it comes to the horrors of domestic violence.
When my stepfather got drunk, which was basically every weekend and every other night during the week, his fists became lethal weapons and my mom’s face was his favorite target. He’d come stumbling through the front door after a couple of hours at the bar and go right for my mom’s neck. He’d squeeze at her throat until her face turned a purplish blue, letting her go right before her eyes were about to pop out of her head. Sometimes, he’d skip her neck and plow right into her mouth with a right hook that busted her lips wide open, spraying blood all over the carpet and the walls like a toddler’s wet sneeze. I remember the one time he grabbed my mom by the back of her head, her mouth still raining blood, dragged her up the stairs into the bathroom and threw her body over the side of the tub. He then turned the water on full blast and when it got high enough he held her head under the water while dodging her flailing fists and tuning out her waterlogged screams until, for whatever reason, he decided to let her go. For me, this is what domestic violence looks like. It’s not Pottery Barn pretty; it’s bloody. It’s not quiet and calm, it’s unstable and chaotic and sometimes it can even be deadly.
What About Ray Rice?
If you were anywhere near a computer in September of 2014 then you probably saw the fuzzy TMZ video of NFL player Ray Rice knocking his then fiancé Janay Palmer unconscious in an elevator. That video brought some of the most fiercely guarded violent transgressions of several other NFL players into public view. It’s not just Ray Rice now who has become synonymous with the NFL’s domestic violence problem but also Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings. That one raw and unedited Ray Rice video sparked a riot of discussion that eventually demanded the attention of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. So why then is the NFL muffling their call to action with a pretty 60-second PSA that shields its viewers from the grim realities of domestic violence?
If we can watch Janay Palmer’s head bounce across the floor of an elevator, if we can tolerate the violence portrayed in video games, if we can have full access to Kim Kardashian’s tits and ass via Paper magazine and if we can watch as the cast of the Jersey Shore get pass-out drunk, then surely we can handle the truth about domestic violence. Right?
Too Close to Home
I’ll never forget the time my mom showed up to a family function without concealing the bruises my stepfather had planted on her neck. I was sitting next to her on the couch when a drunk family member burst out laughing, pointed at her neck and asked, “Hey Dee, did Joe give you those hickeys?” I caught the nervous glance Mom flashed Joe, who was sitting on the other side of the room. I looked up at my mom’s neck and watched her swallow hard before she laughed and said, “Yeah, they’re hickeys.” Even as a kid, I knew my family understood the truth about my stepfather. They knew he was the reason behind her black eyes and broken ribs. But even with the proof right in front of their faces, they remained comfortable in their collective denial. When it comes to raising awareness about domestic violence, there is no room for subtlety. Ever.
Up until the day he died from a massive heart attack, my stepfather continued to terrorize and abuse my mom. In my opinion, his death is the only reason she’s still alive today. Unfortunately, not every victim of domestic violence will be that lucky. Sure, stories like that would make for a major buzz kill during a spectacle that’s meant to provide a collective tune out from the harsh realities of life. But how can we change anything if we’re not willing to shake things up?