It seems every day that another athlete is being arrested for assault. It’s not uncommon for athletes to be aggressive while playing, especially in contact sports like football or hockey. However, some athletes bring violence into other aspects of their life.
Throughout this piece, it is not my intention to make male athletes the bad guys or make them seem overemotional. My point is to show that violence is ingrained in sports, and the way the media and fans. portray that violence and its aftermath only helps to perpetuate a more violent culture of sports – in and outside the game.
Take O.J. Simpson. Even if you don’t believe he killed his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, or his wife’s friend, Ron Goldman, it’s hard to ignore the countless 911 calls his wife made when he was acting violently.
Not much has changed since then. According to Slate, Chiefs player Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, and then drove to the Chiefs practice field to shoot and kill himself in 2012. Dez Bryant, a former Cowboys player, assaulted his mother. Ray Rice, a former player for the Ravens, was videotaped as he punched and knocked unconscious his then-fiancee, Janay. These are just some of the hundreds of cases of male athletes being violent outside of their sport.
That same article wrote that “of the 32 NFL teams, 21 of them have this year (2012) had at least one player who’s been charged at some point with domestic violence or sexual assault.”
USA Today keeps a database of every arrest made since 2000 of a player from a professional team, including the National Football League. The most recent domestic abuse arrest in the NFL as of Jan. 31 was Xavien Howard, a Dolphins player, Dec. 29, 2019 because he “pushed his fiancee against a wall…she had visible scratches and redness on her arm.”
Domestic violence is a problem that also exists outside of sports culture.
“On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States,” says the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Another problem to look at is how these professional leagues handle violence in their sports. After Giants player Michael Boley was accused of throwing his girlfriend into a wall, Giants General Manager Jerry Reese detracted from the severity of the incident.
“We don’t condone any kind of domestic violence of any kind in any way,” Reese said. “But Michael Boley does all kinds of community service and people never talk about that.”
Slate also reports that the then-head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, Jim Harbaugh, was said to have told his players that they could come to him with anything and he’ll forgive them, except for when they’ve abused a woman. However, players of his included Perrish Cox, who was accused of rape, and Ahmad Brooks, who punched a woman in the face.
Even when these athletes go to court, it’s unlikely they will be charged or serve jail time. ESPN writes that Cox was acquitted of the charges that he impregnated a woman while she was passed out. Even DNA tests showing Cox was the father was not enough to convict him. Other players have been sentenced to mandatory community service, house arrest, small fines and other grossly small punishments compared to the pain they have inflicted on others.
There is another part of this violence in sports that must be addressed: the way men and women are portrayed when they act “emotional” or “violent.” Often when a male athlete shoves another player, or a male coach yells at a referee, nobody bats an eye because it is so common to see male athletes and coaches exhibit this behavior. However, when a female athlete or coach acts in those same ways, she is criticized.
At the 2018 U.S. Women’s Open, Serena Williams received three code violations: one for coaching, one for racket abuse and one for verbal abuse towards the umpire, which ultimately ended in her opponent, Naomi Osaka, winning automatically, writes ESPN. The first violation was what started all this, as Williams’ coach made a hand motion that the umpire took as a coaching signal, which is not allowed. Most of her violations in this game had to do with defending herself because she felt unfairly treated, and in the sports world, it is not uncommon to argue with the referees.
If you compare these article titles to the ones about Bob Knight, former Indiana University basketball coach, who literally choked a player once and would throw chairs during games, the differences are astonishing. Headlines about him read “WHY IS BOB KNIGHT ANGRY? The fatal flaw of a brilliant coach remains a mystery,” and “Throwing in the chair: The increasingly bizarre and sad legacy of Bob Knight and Indiana.” These titles and articles acknowledge – and even joke – that Knight has anger issues, yet make that “flaw” seem okay because of how successful his career was.