Sports and Domestic Violence

By Wensley McFarlane

One of the biggest debates that has been longstanding and prevalent in the cross section between the world of sports and greater society is the idea that athletes by virtue of the media and popularity surrounding them have become more than just athletes but are representations of something greater. This mindset has both good and bad aspects to it.

It is good for the youth in America to be able to have positive role models that they not only identify with, but can also view and gleam motivation from that’ll help them push and strive to their goals. However, while putting our athletes on such a high pedestal are we not also giving these individuals the ammunition to make them feel that they are above everything?

It is no secret that athletes everywhere receive “special treatment” in someway shape or form, whether it be favors, gifts, perks, the list continues. This fact is not limited to just the professional realm of athleticism. Even high school athletes benefit from their status and are able to reap the benefits of being known as an athlete. In my opinion, this conditioning makes these individuals feel as if they are larger than life—as if they are the exclusion to rules, and gives them a feeling of entitlement. As long as their performance does not waver, they aren’t subject to the same treatments of the average American citizen. 

Time and time again, in the media we see athletes that break the law or do crazy things and receive nothing but a slap on the wrist while if an average citizen did the same exact things they would be facing serious jail time. This brings me to one of the biggest issues seen in sports, Sports and Domestic abuse.  

Studies show that domestic abuse/domestic violence is one of the most common crimes among male athletes, with most of these cases found among athletes within the NFL. A 2010 Harvard Law Review article, written by Bethany Withers, supports this statement. According to Withers, “conviction rates for athletes are astonishingly low compared to the arrest statistics. Though there is evidence that the responsiveness of police and prosecution to sexual assault complaints involving athletes is favorable, there is an off-setting pro-athlete bias on the part of juries.” There is clearly some truth to my opinion that athletes are not always subject to the same treatment as the average American citizen, and as a result this bias allows them to at times be above the law.  

Domestic violence among athletes is not a new occurrence or brand new issue by no means. However, there has been relatively recent rumblings that have pushed the issue of domestic violence into the spotlight of media for today’s generation.

Take, for example, the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. On February 15, 2014 in an Atlantic City hotel, elevator cameras caught Ray Rice and his now wife, Janay Palmer, in what started out as a heated discussion. Cameras then proceed to catch Rice hitting Palmer first, she then hits him in response, and then lastly he delivers a knockout blow, which leaves Palmer unconscious after hitting her head on the elevator rail. To make all of this worse, Rice then drags an unconscious Palmer out the elevator once the doors open.  

Now while situations like this occur on an everyday basis, this incident not only shocked the world and was the focus of the media for days due to the status and position of Ray Rice. What also made this incident the big media frenzy it became was due to the fact that there was video footage to go along with the claims and the footage that was available was incredibly graphic and gruesome. Whether Palmer or Rice initiated the altercation is not the focus of my commentary. The fact it was available for the world to see is what is completely important to the point that I am trying to get across.  

Due to the fact that the video made Rice out to be the aggressor, despite his status among the people or skill on the field, many people judged him, many people began to express their dissatisfaction with him, and many people waited to see how he would be punished, only for him to be arrested and then released on “simple assault charges.”  

What was the NFL’s verdict and consequence for Rice on the whole incident? Prior to the release of the video footage, Rice walked away with a simple slap on the wrist, which was a two game suspension.

It became incredibly clear after the suspension imposed on Rice that although the NFL speaks out and seems to take a stance against domestic abuse they clearly did not actually have a policy to handle the severity of a case with this type of media pull. In the aftermath of his suspension verdict, the world was completely stunned. It was after this suspension that the actual hotel footage was released, although there were rumors that the head executives of the NFL saw the video before imposing the suspension verdict. People including myself were all confused about how could the NFL think that a two-game suspension was the feasible answer to what was made available in the video. After the rumblings of the people and push on their part to see a change in the handling of Rice’s incident, the Baltimore Ravens released Ray Rice while the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, increased the NFL’s domestic abuse policy outlining a six-game suspension without pay for the first offenses, and a lifetime ban for second offenses. This new policy went further to apply to all NFL personnel, including executives and owners.

All of this was described to prove the statements I discussed earlier. It is obvious with the way Rice’s situation was dealt with there was special treatment or bias which curtailed the severity of the consequences he was imposed with. It is also my opinion that if it were not due to the video footage being released and the public backlash as a result of the video, Rice would have been left with his two game suspension. Domestic violence is the biggest issue and special treatment and entitlement on the part of athletes is also a great issue.

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