The second I saw the breaking news, I knew it was coming. A controversial decision by the NFL to suspend a player just two games over his domestic violence arrest…the very definition of combustible in my business. Throw in a female radio host voicing a strong opinion, and it’s akin to lighting a stick of dynamite near a fuel tank. Explosive. It happens every time I tackle a social issue on my shows. As much as I try to foster intelligent conversation, there is always nasty backlash. I call it being in the line of fire because that’s exactly how it feels…as though I’m standing in front of a firing squad full of marksmen taking their best shots. It comes with the job, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to the venom from listeners and followers on social media.
In my opinion, a two-game suspension for knocking your fiancee’ out cold isn’t enough. The NFL preaches zero-tolerance for violence against women, but this minor punishment of Ray Rice proclaims the exact opposite. The Commissioner took into account Rice’s clean past; the courts allowing counseling in lieu of a trial; the couple’s public apology and sit-down with Roger Goodell himself; and the running back’s positive contributions in the Baltimore community. I realize one moment or one poor decision, even a criminal one, doesn’t define a person, but there are consequences for every action. The NFL had a perfect opportunity to make a strong statement about domestic violence but chose to do otherwise. The two-game penalty (and roughly $500,000 in lost wages) is weak and inconsistent when compared with other punishments handed down in recent years. The NFL is the gold standard in pro sports, the envy of every other sports organization in the US. With revenue of roughly $9 billion annually, the league captures the attention of millions of fans year-round. And with all those people watching, Goodell missed the chance to score a huge win in the fight against domestic violence.
In addition to sharing those sentiments to start my radio show, I also said men shouldn’t hit women. Unless a man fears for his life or the lives of others, he should never hit a woman. Men are physically stronger and more powerful than women, even those who don’t play football for a living. Ray Rice takes hits from defensive ends and linebackers twice his size; he withstands dozens of tackles per game from defenders who get a running start. He’s thrived in a violent, collision sport. His life wasn’t in danger when his fiancee’ came at him in that elevator. He didn’t need to fight back. He could’ve bear-hugged her, held her arms to her sides, or done nothing at all until the elevator doors opened. Instead, he clocked her. According to reports, he hit her hard enough that she smacked her head and fell to the floor unconscious. A very public video shows him dragging her body out of the elevator. He could’ve killed her. It would’ve been unintentional, but she could’ve died.
I barely got the words out of my mouth before the reaction started flooding in. The phone lines, my Facebook page, and my twitter feed blew up. Everything from outrage over the suspension to mockery of the NFL’s policies to questions for Goodell to justifications for Ray Rice to personal stories of abuse. But by far, the most vicious reaction was directed at me personally. I was called bitch, gold-digger, hack, idiot, dumb broad, delusional, ugly, clueless, and the worst host on CBS Sports Radio among other things. One listener said he wished Ray Rice would knock ME out so I would go away. In the age where cowards turn twitter into their weapon of choice, I was sexually harassed and called names I would never speak or print. In my 10 years of network radio, that was the worst it’s ever been.
Personal attacks come with the territory. A vocal cross-section of sports fans still don’t want to hear women venture into a “man’s world” or talk about a man’s game. Some are intimidated by a strong female who knows more about sports than they do. Those critics motivate me and push me to get better at what I do. Those social media trolls are easy to forget. But it was more difficult to move past Thursday’s show. I had a hard time sleeping. I couldn’t stop thinking about the co-worker who suggested I brought the verbal abuse on myself, that I “asked for it” by starting my show with such strong views. I wish I could say the venom stopped after that initial show, but it continued over the next three shows and three days.
I’m so thankful for the loyal listeners and supporters who were just as vocal: applauding me for taking a stand and daring to voice my opinions, for promoting intelligent dialogue and debate, for pulling on my body armor and refusing to back down, for responding with grace and humor instead of stooping to the juvenile tactics of the “haters.” As rough as it was, I’m also thankful for a platform that puts me in the line of fire. Domestic violence is a massive problem in our society, affecting millions of families across the country. One man called my show to say his mother hit him every day from ages 4 to 14 and that he finally left home after hitting her back one time and realizing he could hurt her. That phone call broke my heart. He wasn’t the only listener to share a personal story of abuse. And for those victims, I would go through another hundred shows like Thursday if it means I can make a small difference.