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"To be seen and not heard", is this how NFL players see women?

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"Is their expectation that their little ladies will stay home, enjoy the lifestyle that they’re provided and keep their pretty little mouths shut?"

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Maybe I am just lucky – or unlucky in the eyes of certain people – for having married a woman I respect and whose opinions and ability to express those opinions I value. I can’t possibly image ever making the assertion that my wife should be “seen and not heard”. Yet, that is exactly the what I have heard two former Denver Broncos say this week about player’s wives in the wake of Anna Burn’s Welker’s comments about Ray Lewis after the AFC Championship game.

Burns Welker took to her Facebook page and posted:

"Proud of my husband and the Pats. By the way, if anyone is bored, please go to Ray Lewis' Wikipedia page. 6 kids 4 wives. Acquitted for murder. Paid a family off. Yay. What a hall of fame player! A true role model!"

The comment sounded a lot like sour grapes, but that doesn’t mean that she didn’t speak the truth. Ray Lewis shrouds himself in sanctity these days, but he has had a hard time keeping it in his pants, and two young men did bleed out in the street in front of Atlanta bar, victims of a crime for which nobody was convicted but for which Ray Lewis was present.

The question isn’t whether what Anna Burns Welker said was true. What’s been debated is whether or not is was appropriate for her to have said those things at that particular time if at all. And, in the minds of Tom Nalen, the former Broncos center and Shannon Sharpe, the Hall-of-Fame tight end, whether she should even have the right to speak.

There seems to be a notion among former players that the women, player’s wives in particular, should be “seen and not heard”. This is no contrivance or exaggeration. Nalen and Sharpe have said it this week in precisely those words.

On Tuesday, during his afternoon radio show on 102.3 ESPN, Tom Nalen said of players wives: "They should not have access to anything to allow them to voice their opinions". This morning on Twitter Shannon Sharpe said, in response to a woman who was hassling him, “In reference to FB matters wives / GFs should be seen and not heard”.

sharpe edited

It’s stunning to me that men think this way. But I am anything but a jock. I have never been athletic enough to compete at the highest levels of any sport the way these men have. Perhaps they are in some way more qualified to be outrageous sexists. Or perhaps athletes marry for women for different reasons that I married my wife. Is their lack of respect rooted in the likelihood that NFL players all cheat on their wives? Is their expectation that their little ladies will stay home, enjoy the lifestyle that they’re provided and keep their pretty little mouths shut?

It’s hard not to get that impression.

The NFL goes to great pains to attract women to the game of football. During the month of October players wear obnoxious pink gear, shoes, gloves, etc to be auctioned off for breast cancer charities. There are seminars for women at stadiums each year where the basics of the game are taught. It’s in the leagues best interest to involve women in the sport. But, when it comes to women expressing themselves there seems to be some kind of inbred distain –especially where player’s wives are concerned.

This kind of chauvinism is not acceptable in our society at large, but seems to be nearly ubiquitous among NFL players. Should wives say things that get players in trouble? It might not be for the best, but it’s a family matter, certainly not something to be dealt with by making vast statements about women being seen and not heard. That type of diatribe is far more damaging to the reputations of players and of the NFL in general than anything Anna Burns Welker posted on Facebook.

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