Friday, May 7, 2010

Experts: Football Causes Anti-social Behavior? Oh well.

[Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault]

Previously, I have written about the nihilistic hyper-masculinity that the sport of American football embodies. In it, I referenced a Time magazine article that highlights the mental debilitation that repeated blows in the head have caused in many professional football players.

Now, and you sort of had to know this was coming, some are speculating that head injuries are what have caused the poor behavior of Ben Roethlisberger, who has been twice accused of rape. Explains neuropsychologist Jordan Grafman:

"Socially finessing (social) circumstances takes time and experience and further maturation of the frontal lobe brain tissue. If you're in the middle or even late period of that development, maybe 14 to 28 (years old), and you have a brain injury, it's going to make it that much more difficult to resolve social behaviors so that you're acting appropriately as an adult."

So... what? What does this mean for the great All-American sport of football? Football causes football players to rape women? To act like entitled jerks? To be anti-social?

Answer: It means nothing with respect to football.

Even if it were absolutely proven that football-induced head injuries caused male football players to be sexual predators, football would not be banned and the glorification of its brutality would continue. If the fact that football harms men's bodies hasn't been enough for the NFL to impose regulations on skull-crushing hits, then a speculative harm to women isn't going to do it either.

Roethlisberger is a white man who has been caught behaving badly, whether his sin was in making poor choices with women or actually raping them, and experts are now scrambling to excuse his behavior on medical grounds. This may not even be a conscious thing on the part of the media and experts, as part of living in both rape culture and a racist society is that white men aren't framed as sexual predators in the way that men of color are. If Roethlisberger were black and accused of rape, the general reaction would instead be "Well... of course."

That sort of bias is implicit in many people, and media narratives contribute to these biases. Roethlisberger's failing, we are to understand, is an individual one if it is even seen as a failing at all, which to many it isn't. Boys'll be boys after all.

This medical explanation in Roethlisberger's case offers an excuse for his behavior, perhaps inducing people to feel sorry for him, while doing nothing tangible to reduce male superstars' sexual access to women nor their entitlement to continue to act violently and get paid for it.

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