Another game of Dodge-ball
They fumbled again.
You know the they, the National Football League. You also know the who-they, Commissioner Roger Goodell.
That a sensational media outlet (TMZ) got the wow-factor video of another violent incident between a player and a female before the NFL did shows that something remains amiss here.
As one sportswriter put it, when it comes to the NFL and violence against women, the question clearly isn’t, “What did they know and when did they know it?” It’s more like, “What did they want to know and when did they decide they had no choice but to know more?”
Once again, America’s top revenue sport is defending itself over bad behavior, poor judgment, and inaction. But whose bad behavior, lack of clarity, and myopia: pro football’s or the men who play the game and commit domestic violence against women?
Men hitting women is bad. Whether it’s the video proof of ex-Kansas City Chiefs Kareem Hunt shoving and kicking a woman; or the Washington Redskins signing of Reuben Foster, twice charged with a misdemeanor domestic violence offense in less than one year. He was released by the San Francisco 49ers following his latest incident, right before the Redskins gobbled him up.
When you call these players’ actions “domestic violence” you’re assuming there’s nothing unique about someone – man or woman – controlling, abusing, and manipulating their partner. Way before there was a #MeToo movement there was a dark history that hid behind the moral and ethical, if not necessarily the legal, premise that it was okay to beat your spouse. Domestic violence isn’t just a tool of oppression, it also erases the victim here by defining them, in a woman’s case, only in relation to a man. Even when, as in Hunt’s case, that relationship barely existed.
Football is a violent sport, and in some aspects you have to be angry to play it at its highest level. Anger sells, and some compare Hunt’s actions to when ex-Ravens running back Ray Rice cold-cocked his wife. They bring up Jovan Belcher, another Kansas City player who, in 2012, murdered his girlfriend and then took his own life.
When you define Hunt’s actions as committing domestic violence, you ignore a specific crime with a specific definition, and reduce the woman who was shoved and kicked to someone defined by her presumed relationship to a man, no matter how minimal that relationship is said to be.
The cycle of domestic violence is possible, in part, due to the connection of everything from children to money to shared space. In some way, they all contribute to the emotional power the abuser has over their victim, which allows victims to be manipulated into staying in dangerous relationships. It’s a cycle of violence, not a one-time act, a cycle that, if allowed to continue, can grow to consume every waking moment of a person’s life. The cycle is so insidious and yet so well known it has its own visualization: control.
After hearing both victims (Hunt and Foster) speak this past week, there didn’t seem to have been any intimate-partner relationship to speak of. In fact, it would be pushing it to say there was any sort of relationship at all. Could you call them acquaintances? Maybe. But domestic violence or intimate-partner violence – whatever you want to call it – requires a deeper relationship.
This does not take away from the pain and anguish these women have experienced with these incidents, nor does it mitigate any trauma from what happened to them. But not all trauma is domestic violence. This kind of violence is simply covered by the more traditional parts of the law, crimes such as battery and assault.
When we ignore the details of how domestic violence works in favor or turning it into a catch phrase, we turn domestic violence into just another piece of jargon—something catchy and meaningless.
Let’s make this one stick, pro football. Maybe that can stop the slide you are currently experiencing in going from fumbling to bumbling. Because no matter how you define it, it’s bad, and there ain’t no easy fix.
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.