By Julie Hunter
Women’s Services Inc. of Crawford County
Editor’s note: Women’s Services Inc. of Crawford County — this year celebrating its 35th anniversary of caring and healing local victims of domestic violence — is offering a series of commentaries focusing on domestic and sexual violence. These essays will describe the challenges from abuse for the Crawford County community and Women’s Services Inc., and what can be done to improve the work being done here.
The National Football League season culminated last week with the pomp and circumstance of professional football known as the Super Bowl. The 2012 football season is officially over. For the next seven months, no more Sunday afternoon games to watch. No Sunday night, Monday night or Thursday night games to watch either. Like many, I was raised on a steady diet of NFL football and my Sunday afternoons will have a void that can’t be filled until September. But regardless of whether you follow football or not, the sport has been receiving a lot of attention lately. The violent nature of football has raised concerns from every corner of society. Even the president has weighed in. What is conspicuously absent from the conversation, however, is any discussion about the level of violence being committed by players off the fields of play.
While you may be familiar with the murder of Kasandra Perkins by her boyfriend, Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who later committed suicide, here are some other incidences of violence involving former and currently playing athletes who you may not have read about:
n January 2013: Bengals safety Robert Sands was arrested and charged with assault and domestic violence against his wife.
n October 2012: Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas was charged with aggravated assault after he allegedly punched his wife in the stomach.
n October 2012: Former NFL running back Larry Johnson was arrested after he allegedly choked an ex-girlfriend into unconsciousness and left her in her underwear in a hotel hallway.
n August 2012: Former Dolphins wide receiver Chad Johnson was charged with misdemeanor battery after allegedly head-butting his wife.
n November 2011: Packers linebacker Erik Walden was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his girlfriend.
n October 2010: Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn was arrested and charged with second-degree felony of aggravated assault after he punched and broke his girlfriend’s jaw.
n March 2010: Oregon running back LaMichael James is charged with menacing, strangulation and assault after he allegedly grabbed his girlfriend by the neck and forced her to the ground.
A database of NFL player arrests since 2000 hosted by the San Diego Union-Tribune indicates that 21 of the 32 NFL teams had at least one player who had been charged with domestic or sexual violence in 2012. In 2010, Jeff Benedict, an English professor at Southern Virginia University, released a thorough examination of arrests for professional and college athletes during a sixth-month period. During those six months, there were 125 athletes arrested, including 70 college football players. Domestic violence cases accounted for nearly 20 percent of the total.
While these incidents and statistics are unsettling in their own right, what is even more unsettling is the punishment, or lack thereof, that athletes receive. Although allegations, charges and arrests of high school, college and professional athletes for violent crimes against women continue to escalate, athletes routinely escape accountability for their offenses. A Georgetown study found that when athletes are charged with crimes, their conviction rate is 38 percent. The conviction rate for the general population is 80 percent (Valen 2009).
Regardless of whether or not these charges ever see a court of law, we as a society are often quick to defend the accused athlete and assume the accuser is just after attention, fame and money. It is precisely these assumptions that prevent victims of violence from stepping forward in the first place, deters them from further pursuing a case they do report and allows athletes to circumvent culpability. When reports of sexual violence at Penn State and Syracuse became public, we expressed plenty of outrage at the violence and abuse perpetrated against boys and young men; and rightly so. Why don’t we express that same outrage over violence against girls and women? What message are girls and women being sent about the value of their lives? Why is violence against girls and women marginalized by our society?
We hear a lot about entitlements these days, particularly around programs like Social Security and Medicare. However, we hear virtually nothing about the sense of entitlement athletes hold for their own behavior. We hear nothing about “entitlement thinking” being subsidized by us, their fans. Our continued glorification and unwillingness to hold athletes accountable only enflames their feelings of exceptionalism.
People often ask those of us who work and volunteer at Women’s Services what it will take to end violence. You may think the answer is complicated and multifarious, but the truth is, the answer is quite simple: Intolerance of violence. Athletes need to be held to the same level of non-violent behavior as the rest of society. The affectionate attachment our society has for athletes cannot prevent us from holding them accountable for their actions off the field. Only our intolerance of violence will affect its extinction.
Hunter is marketing and media supervisor for Meadville-based Women’s Services Inc.