[Content Note: Domestic violence; victim-blaming.]
"CBS you pulled my song last week, now you wanna slide it back in this Thursday? NO, Fuck you! Y'all are sad for penalizing me for this."—Rihanna, singer and survivor of domestic violence, in response to the NFL's decision to not use her song "Run This Town" at the start of last Thursday's game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, despite the fact that CBS Sports and the NFL Network had planned to open every Thursday night game this season with the track.
When people figured out that this week's Thursday night football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers would open with a song from Rihanna, they weren't pleased, and the NFL gave in to them by agreeing not to play the song. But the reaction says more about how we unfairly treat victims of domestic abuse than it does about the NFL's sensitivity to violence against women.A true thing about being a public survivor is that evidence of surviving, and thriving, shames abusers. And to back away from Rihanna in this moment communicates, yet again, that we prioritize the discomfort of abusers more than we do the empowerment of their victims.
CBS Sports and NFL Network plan to open every Thursday night game this season with "Run This Town," the 2009 collaboration between Jay Z and Rihanna. But, after an especially contentious week of controversy over former Ravens running back Ray Rice — who was dropped from the team after a surveillance video depicting him punching his then-fiancee was made public — it seemed like a bad PR move to include Rihanna, who was infamously the victim of domestic abuse in a former relationship with Chris Brown.
After considerable push back for partnering a Ravens game with a Rihanna song, the NFL Network decided to reconsider. "Run This Town" did not play on Thursday night; instead, CBS aired coverage of the domestic violence controversy surrounding Rice. ...But if the league is hoping to prove that it's sensitive to issues of domestic violence, this was actually a misstep. It doesn't make sense that Rihanna is essentially being punished for being the victim of a crime.
...In fact, if the NFL was committed to empowering survivors of domestic violence, it might have been nice to put a spotlight on a woman like Rihanna, who is still enjoying a hugely successful career — the NFL called her "one of music's biggest stars" in its press release about the Thursday night football opener — despite what she's experienced in her past.
We're never getting past this shit as long as men in power flinch at the possibility of making abusers feel bad.