As the outcry over the National Football League’s response to incidents of domestic violence perpetrated by their players has intensified over the past several weeks, activists are now putting pressure on the NFL’s sponsors to take a stand against the league. A campaign calling on CoverGirl to stop sponsoring the NFL has gained particular momentum recently, partly thanks to a dramatic photo series that depicts models with bruises on their faces.
CoverGirl, which is the official beauty sponsor of the NFL, has a “Get Your Game Face On” campaign that encourages female fans to coordinate their makeup with their favorite team’s colors. But, in order to highlight the NFL’s ongoing controversy with issues of domestic violence, a pair of activists have given several CoverGirl models a makeover:
The photo campaign was first started by Adele Stan, an editor at The American Prospect in Washington, DC, who tweeted out a photo of CoverGirls’ Ravens model about a week and a half ago. “I put a big black smear around her eye and started tweeting out the image. It really took off on Twitter,” Stan recounted in an interview with ThinkProgress.
The feminist group UltraViolet, which has been organizing petition drives for weeks to push back on the NFL’s domestic violence policy, did a real Photoshop job on the image. Stan says that’s when it really started going viral, and when she started connecting with other activists to talk about potential next steps.
Leslie MacFadyen, an account executive in Philadelphia, is the one who had the idea to Photoshop all of the models in CoverGirl’s “Get Your Game Face On” campaign. Dubbing it a “CoverGirlcott,” the two women started building a Pinterest board of Photoshopped models alongside information about football players’ domestic violence charges. “It was a true collaboration with me providing the visuals and Adele providing the text and written content for the board,” MacFadyen told ThinkProgress via email. For instance, the caption for the model who represents the San Francisco 49ers reads:
“SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS fans, get your #CoverGirlcott #GAMEFACE on! On August 31, 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested and charged with felony domestic violence for attacking his fiancée, who was reportedly 10 weeks pregnant at the time, according to the Sacramento Bee. NFL punishment: NONE. #GoodellMustGo”
There are a couple reasons the two women decided to go after CoverGirl. They say the company is an especially appropriate target because of its relationship to women.
“I knew that targeting Cover Girl would be a way to reach women who are NFL fans, and who love makeup and fashion — as I do — but who might not necessarily consider themselves to be feminists. That was my thought,” Stan told ThinkProgress. “And Leslie was quick to point out, as some others did too, that the other piece of it is that women use makeup to cover their bruises in domestic violence… There’s a connection there that’s very powerful.”
“Women make up 45 percent of NFL fans and are the decision makers for 70 percent of purchases made in the average household,” MacFadyen added. “We hold the power and it is time to wield that power putting pressure on these sponsors to make change occur.”
Earlier this month, DeadSpin detailed the 56 domestic violence incidents among football players that have involved arrests under NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s watch. Stan and MacFadyen are working to produce images to accompany each of those incidents, as well as doing media outreach about their campaign in their spare time. They hope to ultimately pressure Goodell to step down.
In response to the campaign, CoverGirl was recently forced to issue a statement about the NFL’s handling of domestic violence issues. “As a brand that has always supported women and stood for female empowerment, COVERGIRL believes domestic violence is completely unacceptable,” the brand posted on Facebook. “In light of recent events, we have encouraged the NFL to take swift action on their path forward to address the issue of domestic violence.”
That statement hasn’t placated critics, who continue to call on CoverGirl to follow in the footsteps of the Raddison hotel chain, which dropped its sponsorship of Minnesota Vikings player Adrian Peterson after he was indicted on charges of child abuse. The company did not respond to ThinkProgress’ repeated requests for additional comment.
The grassroots response to the NFL’s recent issues with domestic violence reflects a larger move toward using internet tools to trigger social change. Over the past several years, women have increasingly taken to Twitter to spark discussions about violence against women, victim-blaming, and their personal experiences with domestic abuse and sexual assault. For instance, after former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s wife stood by him amid reports of his violence against her, women who have experience abusive relationships raised awareness about the reality of these complicated situations under the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Online feminists like Stan and MacFadyen have helped ensure that these conversations reach the national stage.
“Considering all the little boys who look up to these players as heroes, the NFL is in a unique position to send a very strong message that this is not acceptable. And they’ve sent the opposite message,” Stan said. “That really motivated me.”
This post has been updated to include additional comments from Leslie MacFadyen.