My youngest daughter has recently become a bit of a football follower because her boyfriend is a huge New England Patriots fan. I took her to the Jets opening day game recently and although we had fun, I couldn't help but experience a bittersweet feeling about watching grown men inflict pain and butting heads with each other at full speed - and consider the broader implications this has for our society.
And then, of course, came the infamous Ray Rice video which has sparked universal outrage and which makes one wonder whether our society has gotten to a stage where we've let professional athletes (and some pop culture celebrities like singer Chris Brown, Rhianna's ex) become so entitled that they feel that smacking their girlfriend or spouse is acceptable behavior.
It's great that we're now living in a culture where all of this is now on videotape and is forcing us to confront these ugly private behaviors. It's allowing fathers and mothers to speak to their sons - and daughters - and point out that it is never right to raise a fist towards anyone. These are teachable moments that we cannot let slip by.
Professional athletics, particularly football, has in many cases bred a culture of machismo and violence and degradation of women that has reached a crisis point - but, fortunately, through ubiquitous video technology and viral social media, the outrage that pours out after these incidents is starting to lead to real punitive action - and accountability for those "bystanders" like NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is now on the hot seat for not taking swifter and more severe action against Rice when the video allegedly first surfaced.
Ray Rice, a superstar player for the Baltimore Ravens, deserves to be banned for at least the rest of the year and unless he agrees to a long-term plan of counseling and anger management training he should not be allowed to play again. It's time we set a standard of zero tolerance of spousal abuse; the NFL and other professional sports leagues could do society a world of good by pioneering this crackdown and by setting up programs that can be emulated by other parts of society.
The other huge issue is how we as a society view the accountability of "bystanders," those who supervise those who are accused of "bad behavior." When former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno covered up the horrific abuse perpetrated by one of his assistants, Jerry Sandunsky, he went from hero to villain overnight. Now, we will see, if the NFL investigation is done thoroughly, whether Roger Goodell failed in his role and whether he merits removal as NFL Commissioner.
This kind of scrutiny will resonate throughout the country; when CEOs or managers at corporations or non-profits or in government agencies are made aware of private "bad behavior" of their employees, they have a responsibility to speak up and do what is necessary to make sure that person gets help and that their behavior does not enter the workplace. Silence is not acceptable. Sweeping problems under the rug is not acceptable. "Boys will be boys" is no longer acceptable as a credo.
And then there is the related epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses that is just now being publicly acknowledged because of the brave few young women, like the Columbia University student, who is walking around campus lugging the bed in which she was sexually assaulted, but which did not lead to the disciplining of her assailant. University presidents, provosts, deans and even faculty must start taking seriously their role of "in loco parentis," being the parental figures on campus where we hand off our 18-25-year-old children to learn and expect them to be safe.
What is being done now on the national level to ensure that there is accountability on college campuses to stem the tide of widespread sexual assault?
As the father of two teenage daughters, all of this has been on my mind recently. Let's face it: while the U.S. has been generally more enlightened than other cultures around the world (with the exception of Scandinavia, Canada and some parts of Europe), we are still largely a patriarchal society.
But, the tide is beginning to turn and this next generation has a chance to break down some of the barriers that have held women back. Paid family leave, for fathers as well as mothers, is one key component; equal pay for equal work is a huge part of our quest for economic justice; and the proper education and training of young men, as early as their teen years, in sexual relations is an area where we are sorely lacking. The "Yes Means Yes" movement, articulated recently by a new statute in California and advanced by first wave feminists like Gloria Steinem, is a giant step in the right direction. No longer should silence or passivity be an invitation for unwanted sexual advances.
We need to have a very open and candid public conversation about ways we can ensure that women feel safe and equal in our society throughout their lives. The very shocking video of Ray Rice's assault on his fiancee has allowed us to confront one aspect of this.
Let's not let this teachable moment go by and let's continue to agitate for a just society for all women. As a father of two teenage girls, I feel this need more strongly than ever.
Tom Allon, the president of City & State, NY, was the Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor in 2013. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org