Roger Goodell’s NFL took its long-standing positions of shameless hypocrisy and callousness to humanity to a new level, it was reported on Wednesday.
The league fined a pair of players who had lost their mothers respectively to breast cancer and domestic violence for trying to use their uniforms to raise awareness about breast cancer and domestic violence—two causes the league purports to champion in what has been once again exposed as a hollow corporate relations charade.
NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala reported that Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay was fined $5,787 for wearing purple cleats to raise awareness of domestic violence. Gay’s mother, Carolyn Hall, was shot multiple times and murdered by his stepfather when Gay was 8 years old, and he has become one of the league’s leading voices on the issue.
At the same time, Kinkhabwala reported that Gay’s teammate, running back DeAngelo Williams, was fined $5,757 for wearing eyeblack styled with the phrase "we will find a cure" and a breast cancer ribbon. Williams’ mother, Sandra Hill, died of breast cancer last year.
Gay is a longtime volunteer at the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh who did a PSA for the shelter long before the league was forced by a string of high-profile incidents to feign to care about the issue. He wore the same purple cleats during domestic violence awareness month last year, and he reportedly evaded fines at the time. The NFL featured Gay in a PSA for its anti-domestic violence corporate branding site NoMore.org over the weekend, but his rogue decision to wear the cleats violated the league’s uniform policies on personal messages. That policy states, “players are prohibited from wearing, displaying, or otherwise conveying personal messages either in writing or illustration, unless such message has been approved in advance by the League office.” The specific violation was that the cleats are official Vikings cleats, which Gay is not allowed to wear because he plays for the Steelers.
Here is Gay’s account of his mother’s death, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year:
March 14, 1992, was a sunny Saturday. Carolyn dropped the boys off at their grandmother’s house and walked down the street to visit a friend. She was considering leaving [her husband] Vernon [Bryant], and he was not taking it well. He tracked her down at her friend’s house, and she came outside to talk to him.
Minutes later, the friend was running frantically down the street to [Gay’s grandmother] Corine’s house. Carolyn’s brother, Ronald “Gene” Hall, was there with the boys. The friend told Gene that Vernon had shot Carolyn and then turned the gun on himself. When Gene reached her, Carolyn was laying on the driveway, bleeding onto the concrete.
Gene held his little sister and tried to keep her from moving. She was breathing, so there was still hope. He stayed with her in the ambulance and into the hospital. The outlook wasn’t good; she had been shot five times.
Family took William and his brothers to the hospital. This was the part of the story that he could always remember. The boys wanted to see their mother, but they were told they couldn’t. They didn’t understand why.
“After that, they told me that my mother passed away,” Gay says. “I thought life was over.”
Williams also recently starred in a PSA for the league—this one for breast cancer awareness—and was also not fined for dying his hair pink and painting his toenails pink during the proscribed period of breast cancer awareness month. When he asked the league if he could wear pink for the entire season, he was told “no.”
It has been said before, but the NFL’s issue-raising campaigns are a mere extension of its branding efforts and—at least in its obtuse and unfathomable policy implementation—is completely devoid of the actual compassion that the promotion of these causes is supposedly meant to elicit.
Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Greg Hardy, who was convicted of assaulting his former girlfriend Nicole Holder and throwing her on a pile of guns but had the conviction overturned and the charges dismissed when she refused to testify again, was not reportedly fined this week for his part in an on-the-field fight with a Cowboys coach. (After the incident, Dallas owner Jerry Jones described him as “one of the real leaders on this team” to the astonishment of onlookers.) Hardy was also the only one of Williams' teammates to attend his mother's funeral when both played for the Carolina Panthers.
Johnny Manziel, who is currently under investigation by the league for a recent domestic violence incident in which he was not charged, has also not been fined for that incident and played for the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Video after the incident showed his girlfriend Colleen Crowley saying that he had hit her multiple times and that she feared for her life.
Gay told Kinkhabwala that he understood that he “broke the rule,” was not upset with the league, and indicated he was happy to be getting the message out. He also said he hopes the NFL will send his entire fine to a domestic violence cause. If he wants that money to go to something more than a corporate branding exercise, he better hope that the NFL doesn't send it to the league’s own program.