In the recent Sports Illustrated article “A Double Standard When It Comes To Athletes and Domestic Violence” , Jeff Benedict discusses the blinders that we as a nation have put up when in comes to athletes being abusers. In the last two weeks alone three professional athletes either verbally or physically assaulted their partners in public. Lance Stephenson of the Indiana Pacers attacked the 21 year old mother of his child, pushed her down a flight of steps and bashed her head into the bottom one. Four days earlier New York Mets pitcher Francisco Rodriguez was arrested for assaulting the grandfather of his infant twins, who had stepped in to defend his daughter whom Rodriguez was verbally assaulting. Mark Fields, former Carolina Panthers linebacker, choked and beat the mother of his six year old daughter before throwing her to the ground and threatening to kill her.
Historically, we have thought of DV as a “private” crime that occurs behind closed doors away from the public eye. And yet these three athletes could not have picked more public locations to berate and abuse their partners and no one stepped in to stop them. A large part of why athletes can exhibit these kinds of behaviors results from their assurance in their fame and status to lessen the consequences of their actions. For example Stephenson, a star athlete in his high school, sexually assaulted a 17 year old girl in his school However after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct the University of Cincinnati still offered him a full scholarship, he became the Big East’s Rookie of the Year in 2010 and was drafted by the Indiana Pacers in June. He then went on to assault his girlfriend last week.
In discussions by their managers for penalties for Stephenson and Rodriguez the focus seems to lie in what their behavior reflects about their respective teams images and how this will affect fan’s emotional and financial support. These athletes are reprimanded not because of the emotional and physical pain they’ve caused their partners, but because of damage they’re doing to their teams reputations and financial statuses.
However, professional male athletes serve as role models to thousands of adolescents, particularly boys. Their abusive behavior and the dismissive attitudes of coaches, owners and fans towards it, perpetuates the idea that masculinity is obtained through physical dominance and subjugation of others. As young men watch and emulate these athletes, a vicious cycle of violent masculine ideals are normalized. I’ve heard people say “Well sure the guy has a terrible personal life but that has nothing to do with his athletic career and ability. Let him play!”. As long as professional athletes serve as cultural icons of masculinity and their abusive behaviors are excused as “personal drama” we do an immense disservice to victims by minimizing the real pain caused by domestic abuse. We have a responsibility to victims to advocate for their rights and to address the severity of abusive behavior, no matter how famous the abuser is.
What do you think about athletes suffering less severe consequences for domestic abuse? Leave us your thoughts!