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Keith Strudler: Firing Josh Brown

It is an overwhelming time in American sports. First, we have two feel good stories in the World Series and the end of at least one curse. It's also the midpoint in both the college and professional football seasons, when programs focus there gaze towards both the playoffs and bowl games. Add to that the start of the MLS soccer playoffs and, in case you missed it, the first game of the NBA season last night. It can be hard to simply know what's happening, much less to have any sense of mastery. So that said, it's fairly easy for the case of Josh Brown to be buried amongst the highlights. For the uninitiated, Brown is the newly unemployed punter of the New York football Giants. He was released this week by the team after spending last week on the NFL’s exempt list. Meaning he couldn’t play, but he did get paid. Which to be honest, is most everyone’s dream.

Unfortunately, this all came to be for nefarious reasons, as many of you know by now. It began the spring of 2015, when Brown was arrested for domestic violence, specifically for aggressively grabbing his wife Molly. The charges were dropped, but soon thereafter she told the police her husband had been physically abusive to her at least 20 times, dating back to 2009. Police documents include an email from Josh where he wrote that he “objectified women and never really worried about the pain and hurt I caused them.” The couple divorced months later. Knowing about the arrest, this past spring, the Giants resigned the punter to a two-year, $4 million contract. Brown was suspended by the league for the first game of this season for his arrest, but nothing more. Which seems in strong contrast to the NFL’s 2014 policy to suspend players six games for domestic violence, although suspensions could be lengthened or shortened based on circumstances. There is nothing particularly compelling about Josh’s case that seems to warrant such clemency, but that’s what happened.

As this case has become recently more public, the Giants took a decidedly different tact. Specifically, he was now, this week, fired, after first being suspended for a game. It’s not clear whether the Giants, or certainly the NFL, knew the full details of the police report until now. That doesn’t justify their seeming indifference to yet another football player’s arrest for domestic abuse, but certainly, the context changes. At the very least, though, the Giants are vulnerable for not finding this out earlier. In sport where coaches could tell you the height, weight, standing broad jump, and resting pulse of every athlete on the team, it’s remarkable the Giants couldn’t figure out their own punter beats his wife.

The Giants have defended their position, although recently admitted their judgments and decisions were “misguided.” That’s a term for people who don’t like to apologize. Trust me, I know. The league is looking at the case and made it nearly impossible for another team to sign Brown, at least assuming you’d want him to play. So Josh Brown is out of the league for now – I’d say at least six games – and if other cases serve as a guide, this might be the end.

Of course, the issue here isn’t whether Josh Brown gets to play football again. I’m guessing most of you, like me, aren’t especially concerned about Brown’s athletic future any more than Donald Trump’s real estate holdings. I don’t even think the question here is about the intersection of football and domestic abuse. As much as that narrative exists, punting isn’t the most aggressive position in sports. To extend the narrative that all football players take their violent on-field tendencies home with them doesn’t necessarily work here, and it probably weakens the argument.

The question here, as I see it, is whether football – a game played by men and watched by millions and millions of people – is going to help reduce domestic violence in this country. How is the NFL, one of the most revered properties in the history of the United States, going to actively make this world a safer place for women – a large percentage who follow the sport religiously.

I know it’s not their job to do so. The NFL is a business, not a social cause. I’ll leave aside all the hypocrisy of tax breaks and public funding. But if they want to remain our nation’s past time; the place Americans use their leisure time and money; the pride and joy of our cities; and the perhaps the only true American holiday in the Super Bowl – then they need to be more than a corporate front that has rules and policies and whatever. If football wants to be America, as it has been for the better part of a half century now, it’s going to have to figure out how to make sure it’s domestic abuse issue isn’t simply an inconvenience, but instead the start of a long conversation.

How does that happen? That’s really up them. But I’d say it should be more than simply employing Josh Brown when he’s employable, and firing him when it’s risky. They can start with that. Then, perhaps, the story of Josh Brown won’t get lost in today’s sports news.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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