Not OK: Rihanna Should Not Be Penalized for the NFL's Problems
As if the NFL wasn’t already out of step with the problems of violence against women, now there’s this: Rihanna, a victim of abuse herself, has been somehow penalized for the organization’s own poor judgement in the handling of Ray Rice.
Nearly a week has passed since CBS’ decision to shelve Rihanna’s music from NFL’s Thursday Night Football coverage. Given that Rihanna may very well be the world’s most well-known victim of domestic violence, having been brutally beaten by her boyfriend Chris Brown the night before the Grammys in 2009, it’s been speculated that broadcasters became worried that associating the singer with their Thursday Night Football coverage would further the league’s reputation as being a haven for assailants. By some strange logic, it seems, supporting the music of a victim of abuse sent a message they wanted to avoid.
Officially, CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus explained the decision to pull Rihanna’s segment, this way: “We thought journalistically and from a tone standpoint, we needed to have the appropriate tone and coverage,” he told Sports Illustrated. “A lot of the production elements we wanted in the show are being eliminated because of time or tone.”
In reaction, Rihanna blasted the network, tweeting, “CBS you pulled my song last week, now you wanna slide it back in this Thursday? NO. F*** you! Y’all are sad for penalizing me for this,” and adding, “The audacity. . .”
CBS responded to Rihanna’s tweets by issuing a statement of their own, saying that they would be “moving in a different direction,” and removing the Rihanna’s scheduled weekly music segment permanently. The Associated Press notes that more than 10 million people watched the opening of last week’s broadcast, adding that her permanent removal represents a “significant loss of weekly exposure for Rihanna’s work.”
The decision has not only outraged the singer, but feminist critics who see this as just another example of victim-shaming. Roxane Gay notes, “It’s strange that Rihanna had to pay the professional price for violence she suffered five years ago. It’s strange that she had to pay the price for Ray Rice’s crime.”
Slate’s Amanda Marcotte, meanwhile, calls out CBS for “treating yet another victim like she’s the problem here.” She continues: “The move is also troubling because it suggests that no matter how many records she sells or where she goes with her career, in many people’s eyes (such as those of CBS executives), Rihanna is defined by someone else’s choice to attack her.”
If the NFL hopes to retain their female fanbase, 80-million strong, they will have to wise up to what they’re doing wrong. There seems to be a lack of understanding—both on the organization’s part and on the side of broadcasters—as to how women who have suffered abuse should be treated. Punishing Rihanna for being a victim is a deliberate, harmful action that does little to give the impression that the league “gets it.” Instead, it sends the message that women are responsible for the abuse put upon them—both in their personal and professional lives—and that’s just plain wrong.