Shannon Sharpe: Another Example of Sexist Behavior in the NFL?

Charlie O'ConnorCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2010

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 18:  Analysts Boomer Esiason and Shannon Sharpe of 'NFL Today' speak during the 2007 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour for CBS at the Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel on January 18, 2007 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Today, former NFL tight end and current CBS Sports football analyst Shannon Sharpe announced that he would be taking a leave of absence from his job.

The reason? Sharpe was served with a temporary restraining order by a woman named Michele Bundy last week, but only recently did the details of the restraining order emerge. Bundy alleges that Sharpe forced her to have sex, stalked her, and threatened her life on numerous occasions. In other words, Sharpe is dealing with some very serious and disturbing allegations.

Normally, such a revelation would be viewed as simply another example of a loudmouth ex-football player living up to the brute stereotype.

However, the recent Ines Sainz controversy will likely result in the Sharpe situation receiving extra attention from the media.

After Sainz' complaint regarding her treatment in the Jets locker room surfaced, Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis made a comment stating that many women reporters enter locker rooms with the intent of checking out the male athletes.

Portis' comments were widely disparaged as misogynistic and demeaning to women, particularly those in the journalism profession.

Now, on the heels of the Sainz-Portis debate comes an incident that will only serve to further the argument that a culture of sexism exists in NFL locker rooms and television studios.

So is Sharpe's situation simply an example of bad timing? Or does it shed light on a serious issue facing the NFL today?

Sharpe's History

Sharpe was a fantastic NFL tight end, a potential Hall of Famer at the position. As it turns out, Sharpe also has a long record of civil allegations stemming from conflicts with women.

According to the New York Post, 10 civil complaints have been filed against Sharpe since 1994, and all of the complaints have originated from women. This includes a battery charge filed by the mother of his children.

He has never been charged in a criminal suit. But the fact that so many complaints exist seems to imply that Sharpe has a bit of an issue with the women in his life.

It appears that CBS ignored his past history with civil suits when they hired him to be an analyst. Is it their responsibility to be a moral arbiter when it comes to hiring? No. But Sharpe's past makes this most recent allegation much less of a surprise.

Sharpe is not a young, hotheaded professional athlete. Even if these allegations prove untrue, he should have been mature enough to avoid placing himself in a situation that inspired such a response.

Hopefully, it will be proven that Sharpe did not rape, stalk or threaten Ms. Bundy. A conviction would tarnish a great player's reputation.



A Problem in the NFL?

The fact that a former star and high profile analyst has come under fire for violent tendencies towards women is surely a black eye for the NFL.

That it came following a high-profile controversy regarding the attitudes of current NFL players makes it even more embarrassing.

Portis' comment regarding Sainz was revealing, to say the least. It hinted at not only a lack of respect for women journalists, but a lack of respect for women, period.

The NFL immediately condemned Portis' words. And that response should be applauded.

But the disrespect toward women has been a problem in the NFL for years. Ben Roethlisberger's high-profile escapades were the most recent example. Although he was eventually cleared of the charges, the rumors and reports regarding his conduct were embarrassing and demeaning towards females.

Why should the NFL care about this? Because despite a reputation as a male-oriented sport, women follow the game as well.

The league has often studied ways to attract more women fans to the game. And it appears they are succeeding. According to Neilsen, 58 million of the 138 million NFL fans today are women.

That is a sizable minority, to say the least.

Most professional sports have an underlying reputation of machismo and masculinity. That comes with the territory of being all-male sports. In addition, sports stars have the bad reputation that goes along with the jock stereotype—dumb, violent and uncaring.

But players like Portis and Roethlisberger do not stand for all NFL athletes. Most are likely respectful and gentlemanly.

To continue to further the game's appeal towards women, these players must take in the lead in promoting a sport that appeals to both men and women.

In addition, potential misogyny should be addressed at each annual Rookie Symposium. While it may be merely successful in public relations, if it makes the next Roethlisberger hesitate just a little before invading a college bar, it will have made an impact.

The Sharpe situation is unfortunate. During a year where numerous players have hurt the NFL's reputation amongst women, Sharpe's recent issues only give critics even more ammunition.

The league's Public Relations department needs to address this potentially damaging perception immediately. If they don't, they risk losing the same female viewers that have recently switched over to the sport.