It is rumored that there is a law still on the books in Newberry County SC, that a man can take his wife to the court house steps in Newberry , on a Sunday and beat her publically with a stick. This law, at one time did exist. Given the states increased crack down on domestic violence and tougher criminal domestic violence (CDV) laws, I doubt it’s still in effect.
We have evolved as a society that once encouraged the husbands to beat their wives to keep them in line, to ignoring the issue and it just being a dirty little secret, to it being an act that should not be condoned. Although we have made great strides to educate, prevent and rehabilitate, domestic abuse is still a major issue faced in this country. In 2007, the National Domestic Violence Hotline released their Decade For Change Report in which they’ve estimated 33 million American women have experienced abuse.
The report also goes on to site that:
One in four women have been physically assaulted or raped by a partner vs One in fourteen of men having experienced the same.
Women are 7 to 14 times more likely to report being assaulted, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or had their partner attempt to drown them.
The Justice Department had determined that 30% of female victims were killed by an intimate partner, compared to 3% of male victims.
That same sex couples were not immuned from being victims of abuse.
With the numbers in this finding, it is not surprising that since, professional sports is a slice of American society, that the various leagues and franchises in all sports, would be faced with players who have either abused or been abused by their partners. The recent release of Cedric Wilson from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the report of James Harrison’s assault on his girlfriend, once again shows that, despite education programs provided, makes no team, no sports franchise or figure immune to what is a major problem in society.
Indeed, abuse and violence by major sports and entertainment figures tend to glaringly point out an issue that often times is under reported. From the most extreme violence, as in the tragedy with WWE’s Chris Benoit’s double murder, suicide and the Carolina Panther’s Ray Carruth, conspiracy to murder charge, to the custody situation with Najeh Davenport, to Darryl Strawberry’s abuse charges, to improperly accused charges against Randy Moss.
Incidents like Strawberry’s and Warren Moon’s assault on his wife, has led the MBL, NFL, NBA and NHL to institute programs and policies to address spousal abuse and violence. These programs are no different then what employers like the military and various large police departments have in place. However, the police departments are the only employers that I’m personally aware of that actually fire an officer if arrested on a CDV charge. Others provide intervention. Most employers tend to release abusers only if their productivity is effected or if it’s outlined in a morality clause in their contract. Given this, how far should we expect the major sports franchises to go in reprimanding their players for the same things that most of us would get a pass on?
At the time of the release of Wilson, the Steelers organization came out and stated that they have been taking the incidents on a case by case basis. Often times in the NFL, a player rightfully accused of abuse has faced with some sort of suspension, whether it’s one game or eight. In two incidents over the past year, only the Steelers and Rams released a player due to a second incident. The Decade for Change points out that the situation in abuse is complex, especially since no group is immune from it.
Does releasing a player solve the issue? Probably not, nor will it prevent it, according to the study. In fact, the Domestic Violence Service and Community Partnership Panel suggests we should avoid a simple solution to a complex problem. Just releasing a player wouldn’t change the tide of abuse. Can it send a message to other players, possibly, but it can also send a message to the victim not to report abuse because their spouse or partner may lose his livelihood, adding another issue onto an potentially volatile situation.
Perhaps all employers, not just major sports organizations need to join the fight against domestic violence to be able to reach out, not only to the abusers, but also potential abusers and their victims and provide resources, either through health insurance programs or access to community based programs. Until we ask all employers to be accountable for their employees actions, how can we ask anything different from the the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA?