Commentary

A call to action: Stop domestic violence

Three recent incidents are a wake-up call to do something about athletes and anger

Originally Published: September 17, 2010
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

As a man, it would be irresponsible of me to continue to ignore it. Continue to tune out the pattern. Continue to pretend that these are just isolated incidents.

As a man -- especially a man who covers sports for a living -- that would make me a coward.

Over the past month, there have been three reported incidents of high-profile athletes allegedly being involved in episodes of violence or threatened violence against women with whom they were having some sort of relationship. No doubt, there have been more than these three, but these are the ones most recently in the headlines.

[+] EnlargeFloyd Mayweather Jr
AP Photo/Isaac BrekkenFloyd Mayweather Jr., exiting the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas a week ago, faces eight charges in a domestic violence case.

• Indiana Pacers rookie Lance Stephenson pushed his girlfriend down a flight of stairs, according to a police report. He was arrested on assault, menacing and harassment charges.

• University of Florida wide receiver Chris Rainey, sent a text to his former girlfriend stating, "Time to Die, b----," according to Gainesville police. Rainey has been charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony.

• Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. was charged on Thursday with two counts of felony coercion and four counts of misdemeanor domestic battery and harassment (along with grand larceny and robbery charges) stemming from an argument in which he allegedly hit and kicked a woman with whom he's had three children during an off-and-on relationship for 15 years. According to a Las Vegas police report that includes statements from Mayweather's 10-year-old son, the boxer also threatened to beat the kids if they left the house to tell the authorities.

Those three incidents come on the heels of the awful news in May about the death of of 22-year-old Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia lacrosse player, allegedly at the hands of George Huguely, another Virginia lacrosse player. Huguely is charged with murder and faces a preliminary hearing early next month. All four cases are pending.

When is it going to stop? When is the issue going to become important enough for someone to make it stop?

The answers: It's never going to stop. And no one is going to be able to make the issue big enough, to draw enough attention to it, to make it stop. Too many people have already tried, and failed, to put an end to male athletes physically beating and abusing women.

George Huguely
AP Photo/ Charlottsville Police DepartmentGeorge Huguely has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love.

This is where sports -- and being a part of sports -- gets disgusting.

A football superstar runs a dogfighting ring or a guaranteed Hall of Fame baseball player uses a banned performance-enhancing substance, and all hell breaks loose. Activist groups protest. Congress gets involved. Federal prosecutors push for arrests and jail time. Lawyers push for trials. Media coverage is obsessive.

A girlfriend/wife/fiancée/other woman/baby mamma of an athlete gets beat by a five-time All-Star or a pound-for-pound title holder and … nothing.

It gets a headline, a few seconds on "SportsCenter" and then drops out of our consciousness. It's almost as if it's borderline acceptable, at least by comparison; or maybe we've just become numb to it. Maybe we ignore it because it's a personal issue, as if what goes on inside of someone else's drama is none of our business, as if it's not our place to pass judgment.

Maybe that's what has us here, right now. Has us paying more attention to someone "taking [his] talents to South Beach" than to women being abused by men who have careers in sports.

These are not just cases of "Floyd Being Floyd" or "Lance Being Lance" or "Chris Being Chris." The issue is bigger than them individually. This is about all male athletes -- black, white, straight, gay, old, young, paid, not-paid, superstar or unknown -- and how they control personal anger and how they handle personal issues. Again, we can no longer afford to look at these incidents as isolated.

A study by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, cited in a 2003 story in the Los Angeles Times related to the Kobe Bryant case, found that male athletes are accused of committing an average of two reported acts of violence against women per week. According to Richard Lapchick, one of the authors of that study, those numbers haven't changed since then.

Lance Stephenson
AP Photo/John RaouxLance Stephenson is accused of assaulting his girlfriend in a fight last month.

"Our society values competition and achievement, so we tend to elevate athletes as heroes or treat them simply as sources of entertainment," says Becky Lee, executive director of Becky's Fund, a nonprofit prevention and educational advocacy group. "We give [athletes] passes. We teach them to develop mental toughness in competition, but not how to turn it off when they leave the field. Many athletes feel that they can get away with violence against women because there is no accountability for their actions. Nothing is being done to change their behavior. But not all athletes are violent. So it's important to recognize the athletes who do want to set an example and stand up against domestic violence."

The above-mentioned incidents are just the latest. There is a long string of them in recent months, ranging from allegations against Oakland Raiders coach Tom Cable to allegations against L.A. Lakers forward Matt Barnes (he and his fiancé both deny them, but a possible court case is pending) to allegations against former NFL great, CBS analyst Shannon Sharpe, that forced him off the air until the matter was settled.

Go back a few years earlier, too, to Cherica Adams. Don't recognize the name? Maybe this will help: She's the late girlfriend of former Carolina Panthers wide receiver Rae Carruth. Carruth wasn't the killer, but he was convicted of conspiracy to commit the act of murder and is serving 18 to 24 years in prison.

It's beyond time to take domestic violence initiated by athletes as a serious matter. At some point, laws need to change. The same investment and pressure needs to be applied to this issue that Congress exerts when it jumps into baseball's business over performance-enhancing drugs, or that the NBA exercised when it was dealing with a rogue referee.

[+] EnlargeChris Rainey
AP Photo/Bill HaberFlorida's Chris Rainey, shown here after the Sugar Bowl in January, is charged with felony aggravated stalking.

Just the fact that University of Tennessee fans are printing up orange "Time To Die" T-shirts for their upcoming game against Florida this weekend is reason enough for us to increase our investment in a solution.

But like any civic, civil or social issue that needs to be addressed, it takes someone -- a community group, a politician or even a columnist -- to stand up and say something to ignite and then shape change.

Someone needs to be screaming, other than the victims.

Yes, the issue isn't always clear-cut in specific cases. Often, the facts aren't clear; sometimes, power, money, leverage and revenge are involved in an incident. Often there's a he said/she said element in determining the truth. And there are times when athletes accused as violators are in fact victims themselves.

But as Lee says, "Until we start teaching athletes at a very young age how to deal with anger," this violence will continue.

When will that happen? When will we wake up? When will we as a society start to scream?

As a man, I recognize that something needs to be done. What? I haven't figured that out. But no longer acting like the problem doesn't exist -- that's at least a beginning.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.

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