Cleaning Up the NFL

by Josh Gelernter

If the NFL is serious about fighting domestic violence, here’s a first step.

After the fiancée-punching scandal the NFL suffered this fall, the league is working on an anti-domestic-violence campaign; a new public-service announcement featuring about two dozen pro footballers debuted this Thursday during the Chargers–Broncos game. But the question persists: How can the NFL paint itself as progressive while it permits one of its franchises to use a patently offensive team name? Calling a team “the Vikings” is grotesquely insensitive to everyone concerned about domestic abuse. Minnesota might as well call its team “the Pillagers” or “the Rapists.”

Of course, the public’s attitude toward Vikings has changed over the years. According to a piece in The Spectator by Melanie McDonagh, “the Vikings-as-peaceful-traders approach has now been academic orthodoxy for two generations.” But according to an Aberdeen University historian named David Dumville, whom the piece quotes, “We’re being invited to forget vast amounts.” Dumville “puts the fashion for cuddly Vikings squarely down to ‘Swedish war guilt about not participating in the [second world] war and American political correctness.’” In fact, McDonagh writes, “the Vikings’ cruelty and joy in battle put them in a class of their own.” Per the article’s title, “the Vikings really were that bad.” And according to the Huffington Post, new research done at the University of Oslo suggests that Vikings’ slaves and sex slaves would be beheaded and buried with their deceased masters. Is the NFL promoting rape culture?

If the NFL wants to clean up its act, it should take a page out of the behavior manuals introduced at some universities this fall. According to the Guardian, some feminist blogs use “trigger warnings” to protect their readers: “ . . . lots of women are sexual assault survivors, lots of women read feminist blogs, and graphic descriptions of rape might lead to a panic attack or other reactions that will really ruin someone’s day. Easy enough to give readers a little heads up — a trigger warning.” Certain schools have started adopting the idea: “Oberlin College now recommends that its faculty ‘remove triggering material when it does not contribute directly to the core learning goals’”; or, if such material (like, I suppose, European history) can’t be expunged in toto, students should be warned that “it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.”

According to the AP, “Filmmaker and writer Aishah Shahidah Simmons, a rape survivor who teaches [in the Women’s Studies department] at Temple University in Philadelphia, said she is careful to tell students on the first day of class and in her syllabus that ‘we are getting ready to delve into some really difficult, painful information here,’ such as sexual violence and police brutality.” Though she warns that trigger warnings can be taken too far: “Sometimes, I think you can get triggered by trigger warnings.”

Even the estimable George Will has gotten with the program, de-misogynizing American history in a column on Scotland’s secession vote, wherein he pointed out that the United States is “a creedal nation,” dedicated to the proposition “that all are created equal.” But that didn’t stop women-only Scripps College disinviting him from a campus speaking engagement. Scripps didn’t give a reason for the disinvitation; possibly it was because Will used his column to attack the movement pressuring an NFL team to change its name (I forget which one).

If the NFL cared about its reputation, it would stop the triggerous Vikings taking the field this Sunday. Same goes, by the way, for the “Raiders” and “Buccaneers.” To say nothing of the National Hockey League’s Nashville “Predators.”

— Josh Gelernter writes weekly for NRO and is a regular contributor to The Weekly Standard.