Thursday, January 24, 2008

Open Letter to the New York Jets

I’m a die-hard Green Bay Packer fan, still in mourning over their playoffs loss, proud of their 14-4 season. Normally I could care less about the New York Jets, who won only 4 games this year. Still, I have a surefire blueprint for the Jets to land in the 2008-09 record books -- and I’m happy to share it for free.

It all has to do with the halftime spectacle at Gate D.

As many people now know, groups of male Jets fans have a tradition of lining a pedestrian ramp at Gate D of Giants Stadium during halftime and hurling obscenities (and sometimes plastic beer bottles and spit) at female fans in the area in an effort to force them to expose their breasts.

After the New York Times spotlighted the practice, a Jets spokesman decried such behavior as “outrageous and unacceptable” and called for beefed-up security. That statement was admirable – but it didn’t go nearly far enough. Security seems preoccupied with the narrow legal issue of women exposing themselves, rather than the bigger-picture issue of harassment which should be just plain unacceptable at a family venue or any other setting.

More important, the Jets are missing an opportunity to teach their fans and others about the connection between this kind of humiliation and the violence that flattens, maims, and destroys millions of women in this country every year.

Professional sports teams, unfortunately, have contributed to the problem by allowing players who’ve been convicted of spousal abuse or other forms of violence against women to keep on playing and collecting huge salaries. A three-year study published in 1995 by researchers at Northwestern University found an alarming rate of violence on the part of male student-athletes: while only 3 percent of the population, these young men represent 19 percent of sexual assault perpetrators and 35 percent of domestic violence perpetrators.

If only the outrage that accompanied Michael Vick’s abuse of dogs had carried over to players’ dogging women.

Stadium security and Jets officials have agreed that fans who are caught in harassing behavior can be thrown out of the game and even lose their season tickets. Here’s a proposal to utilize tickets in a very different way.

Why not offer free admission to male leaders from community organizations, congregations, businesses, colleges and elsewhere who volunteer to line the spiral ramp with huge signs saying, “What if this were your daughter?” The volunteers could hand out a flyer with statements from Jets owner Woody Johnson, coach Eric Mangini and star players from the team. The statements would emphasize why men need to treat all women with dignity and respect, just the way they’d want their daughters – and wives and sisters and mothers and friends -- to be treated.

By meeting with women’s groups that have experience combating violence and harassment, team leaders can develop these ideas into a strategic plan. They can approach Madison Avenue ad firms to design materials on a pro bono basis. And they can look to models of programs such as “Men Against Rape,” where men educate other men about the harm of treating women as objects.

In addition to training for a winning season next year, the Jets should use the off-season months to refine the Gate D plan and roll it out with a big media splash next fall.

The Patriots have hurt professional football with Spygate. Don’t let the Jets continue to tarnish it with Gate D-gate. It’s time for the team’s leaders and owners to give real leadership to the millions of fans nationwide who look up to professional athletes and those who guide them.