When Victims Become a Footnote: Domestic Violence in Modern Sports

Article written by Culture Editor Candace Baker and Tech Editor Jeffrey Marshall

It’s disturbing to think that domestic violence has become such a common part of the sports world over the past several years. But it’s a reality that has been perpetuated again and again, with every scandal that comes up in whatever league or division. No matter how many times it seems to happen, the response is always the same: a slap on the wrist and maybe a suspension. Tech Editor and sports aficionado Jeffrey Marshall and Culture Editor Candace Baker decided to share their thoughts on the matter in order to bring their differing perspectives to the table.

A “Zero Tolerance” Policy

The 2014-15 Ohio State Buckeyes won the College Football National Championship behind their head coach Urban Meyer. At the time, the team’s wide receivers’ coach was Zach Smith and their top running back was Ezekiel Elliott. The two of them have drawn heavy domestic violence accusations over the past few years.

Most recently, Smith’s case has been a hot-button issue. Courtney Smith, his now ex-wife, accused him of domestic violence, even releasing text messages that appeared to show him acknowledging that he choked her. These charges weren’t a big deal until the media found out that Urban Meyer had apparently known about the abuse.

Meyer had done nothing to stop his own coach (Smith) or reprimand him in any manner, instead deciding to let Smith take care of his own personal life. It was not until the stories of Smith’s domestic violence incidents were released to the public that he was removed from his coaching job. The University launched an investigation, deciding that Meyer had not handled the situation properly and would be handed a three-game suspension.

The short suspension came as a surprise, as many following the story believed that The Ohio State University needed to show that it would not tolerate domestic violence within the University. More than anything, it can be interpreted as an extension on the lackluster response many authorities have had on issues like this one.

One of the other members of the Ohio State Football team, Ezekiel Elliott, has also been accused of domestic violence. Though he was never charged and has maintained his innocence, the NFL handed him a six-game suspension last season after a lengthy appeals process. Elliott’s case is more intricate than Smith’s because he had proof that the woman who accused him may have been blackmailing him. Nonetheless, the NFL investigated and decided that Elliott had violated the league’s domestic violence policy and deserved to be suspended. Some did believe that the NFL provided an aggressive response to the Elliot case in an attempt to save face, even though Elliot’s case may not have had definitive evidence. While both of these controversial cases were related to football, they’re just two of the many that have developed across the professional sports world over just the past few years.

A recent case involving a new Houston Astros relief pitcher, Roberto Osuna, has also created a stir. Though many details of this case have not been revealed, Major League Baseball did see fit to suspend Osuna, showing that the league had enough evidence to warrant a punishment. The Astros have a very outspoken policy against domestic violence, and many players on the team have spoken about the issue in the past. But instead of honestly handling the accusations against Osuna, the Astros’ front office handled the situation poorly. The front office traded for Osuna before his abuse case had been handled in Canada, so Osuna had to wait to join his new team in order to attend a court date. The Astros’ front office reiterated its “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to domestic violence, but it is hard to believe them when they traded for an abuser and removed a fan who protested the new ad of Osuna by holding a sign with the domestic violence hotline number on the front of it.

The poor responses of the sports world, both professional and collegiate, to allegations of abuse at the hands of players have left the victims out of the discussion and waiting for justice. Instead of outright rejecting domestic violence, teams have focused on finding the best way for their team to win while also putting up a small front for the rest of the world that says that they only half-heartedly disapprove of domestic violence within their sport.

Since When Should Wins Matter More Than Victims?

It sounds like common sense to think that people should take domestic violence seriously. It feels as though every time there’s an athletic domestic violence scandal, such as when a woman feels brave enough to speak out against someone who’s a popular player, it becomes all too clear once again that some people just don’t care enough to take action.

It’s estimated that as many as one in three women and one in four men experience some form of physical violence at the hands of a partner during their lifetime. For many reasons, these victims are often terrified to report their situations. They might feel skeptical about whether or not they’ll be believed, terrified of what their abusers might do to them in retaliation or anxious about the ostracization that can often accompany speaking their truth. That’s exactly why victims reporting their allegations and standing up to their abusers is an incredible act of bravery that should be met with praise and encouragement.

In the past, that hasn’t been the case when those abusers happen to be famous athletes. It’s difficult to forget the viral 2014 video of Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée that earned him a mere two-game suspension. Of course, the NFL only created a sensible domestic violence policy after the intense public backlash that followed the video’s release by TMZ. And let’s not forget that boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who has also been taken to court for domestic violence multiple times, is still the highest paid athlete in the world.

You’d be hard-pressed to figure out why people seem to just not care about these instances and the countless others which received little-to-no media coverage. Does the thought of women being beaten within an inch of their lives not make people angry enough? Of course, that couldn’t be true, because if people care so much about athletes engaging in a peaceful protest against racial injustice during the national anthem, surely it would be common sense that they’d care more about the safety of domestic violence victims. But then again, people don’t always do what common sense dictates.

When the reputation of an athlete or coach is a higher priority than the safety of a partner reaching out for help, it’s a blatant statement to victims and countless others that they are nothing compared to wins, fans, and glory. Though the perpetrators of domestic violence hold the most guilt, the systems that hire and continue to defend them are complicit because they act on in their own self-interest. Those with the power and knowledge to intervene in a potentially dangerous situation are obligated to do so, and in cases like that of Urban Meyer, it’s their failures that allow the violence to continue. Until these individuals and organizations get their acts together and decide to make the victims the priority, the patterns that you see playing out on the news will simply be the norm.

Categories: Culture

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