Brett Favre sexually harassed a co-worker when he played for the New York Jets.
Oh, you can sugarcoat it all you want; the woman he harassed – Jenn Sterger – wasn’t the one to bring these allegations forward. Because we haven’t heard directly from her, one can choose to believe that the messages Favre sent Sterger – messages that included a photo of Favre’s penis – might have been accepted, even welcomed. Because the messages came from a third party, one can question their provenance, entertain the idea that the messages were faked, or somehow taken out of context.
If one wants to, one can reason these allegations away until they disappear. And as a long-time, die-hard fan of the Minnesota Vikings, I would dearly like to. But I have eyes, and I have ears, and I have a brain capable of reason. And I know damn well that Favre’s messages to Sterger were exactly what they appear to be – a lewd, despicable proposition sent from a powerful, married man to a junior member of the company he belonged to. It was sexual harassment, pure and simple.
So what is to be done with Favre? Clearly, this isn’t behavior that can be tolerated by the NFL. No, it isn’t as serious as the multiple allegations of rape against Ben Roethlisberger, or the felony conviction of Michael Vick. But in its own way, it’s more damaging. Roethlisberger and Vick’s crimes1 occurred on their own time, away from the game. Favre, contrawise, harassed a fellow employee of the team he played for.
Should Favre be fined? Certainly. Should he be suspended? Probably. Will that hurt my team’s playoff chances? Yes. Is that more important than sending a message to players that they need to conduct themselves as professionals when dealing with their co-workers? Hell, no.
The sad thing is, I doubt Favre thought he was doing anything particularly wrong, other (maybe) than trying to cheat on his wife. Sports are one of the last bastions of the worst of machismo. The idea that women are mere objects who are owed to successful athletes begins in high school and is underlined all the way to the pros. Infidelity, spousal abuse, and even sexual assault are papered over and minimized, so long as a player can run fast, hit hard, throw accurately.
This attitude has to change, and that change has to start at the professional level. Women must be able to work in sports without having to fend off lewd advances from players. For that reason, I hope the NFL treats this matter with the utmost seriousness. I hope their actions demonstrate, clearly and without favor, that players need to treat their coworkers with respect. And if in doing so, the league causes the Vikings to miss a chance at a Super Bowl, so be it. Believe it or not, some things are more important than sports.
1Roethlisberger committed crimes. He got away with them, but that doesn’t mean that he didn’t commit them.