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Essay — DeAndre Levy’s understanding of misogyny feels magical

In November, espnW’s weekly essay series focuses on giving. This week, a tribute to DeAndre Levy, whose funding of rape kit testing and understanding of consent has restored optimism in athletes.

The September leaves had just begun to transition from chlorophyll-filled green to translucent yellow. I was sitting in my Brooklyn apartment in 2014 chatting with my dad, a die-hard Ravens fan.

The conversation took an awkward turn to the topic of running back Ray Rice, who had been caught on video dragging his unconscious then-fiancé Janay Palmer out of a Las Vegas hotel elevator.

The NFL had done a poor job of handling the domestic abuse from the jump, but once the video was made public for the world to see, the league decided to part ways with Rice.

This felt wrong to my father.

It was the first time I’d yelled at him for what I considered victim blaming. He did not condone the act, but the language he used certainly would make any feminist’s head spin.

In that moment I thought: If seemingly kind and “good” and smart men like my father didn’t understand domestic abuse or misogyny, we were at a loss of ever reaching the men who aren’t “good.”

Almost two years after the Rice incident, former NFL star Darren Sharper was sentenced to 18 years in prison for raping half a dozen women. No bold statements from the NFL. No condemnation from his colleagues. It was just quiet.

He was even nominated for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, only to receive not a single vote from the selection committee.


I was done with the NFL.

NFL players’ wives and girlfriends were suffering at the hands of its men. Physical and sexual assault was handled abysmally by the league, with no sign of an organization that was moving toward actually caring about women.

Then along came Detroit Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy.

Levy stands at 6-foot-1. His smooth, latte-colored face is adorned by a thick beard that looks like it holds the keys to black boy magic. By all measures, he is a unicorn in an industry that has a lot of reckoning to do with how it supports and rewards violent men.

Only 29 years young, he is wise. He has done the work to unlearn misogyny and become aware of its perils. This is a man who uses the term hyper-masculinity in interviews. For a football player, this makes you wonder if the Mayans’ prediction of the world ending is lurking around the corner.

Levy has charged his fellow athletes with the task of speaking up on the dehumanization of women. His “Man Up” piece for The Players’ Tribune in April makes it clear what consent is and what it’s not. He thinks the NFL should do more about domestic violence awareness.

In one of his most remarkable acts of human decency, Levy is donating money to have 11,000 rape kits that were found in a warehouse, abandoned by prosecutors, tested.

His stance is clear: Dismissing a description of sexual assault as locker-room talk is a mistake.

Wherever the NFL found this man, the league is lucky to have him.

I’m not in the business of handing out fresh-baked cookies to men for being decent human beings. But acknowledgement is due. Few professional athletes have this level of understanding about misogyny, so this feels magical. It feels like a win for all the work we black feminists have been doing.

To preserve my sanity, I’ve given up the idea of educating men who don’t get it. More than changing minds, as we’d hope educating men would do, it brings harassment.

I’ve been called everything from a Negro bed wench to a b—- for calling men out on their sexism. Discussing rape culture, consent and violence against women has been mostly futile.

Remember, I yelled at my own dad over sexism. Levy restored a tiny piece of optimism in me about men — athletes too — being able to unlearn the toxicity of patriarchy. His commitment to issues that are typically cast to the side for women to fix alone is a reminder that the work we do is not in vein.

I’ll remind myself of Levy’s awakening when I grow weary and think, “What’s the point?” Because slow change is still change.

Being a black feminist deeply committed to the black community and women’s rights has been discouraging. Enraging. Even hopeless. Like I said, sometimes I think men will never get it.

Levy is proof that they can, though. And while my willingness to teach men is reserved only for the men I care about, I now have a little more faith that they will in turn teach other men. Levy gave me hope that all who wander are not lost. And being lost doesn’t mean one has to stay there.

Bené Viera is a Brooklyn-based journalist who writes about culture, race and gender. Her work has appeared in GQ, Vulture, ESSENCE, Cosmopolitan, VIBE, Glamour and ELLE. When she’s not writing she’s stanning for Nas. Follow her on Twitter at @beneviera.

This essay is featured on espnW.com