Football is Preventing Domestic Violence from Being Treated as a Real Crime

To Nebraska, Tom Osborne is a legend beyond reproach. He is their greatest football coach. He represented them in Congress. He led the university through trying times as athletic director.

To me, Tom Osborne is the man who revealed that beating up a woman is okay if you’re good at football.

ray rice court
I was 13 in 1995 and that year’s Nebraska team was arguably the best college football team in my lifetime, matched only by Miami in 2001. In September of that season, star running back Lawrence Phillips assaulted his girlfriend, which included dragging her down three flights of stairs. I was horrified by that news. What kind of a disgusting human being does that?

Phillips famously returned from suspension just in time for Nebraska to win its second-straight national title in the Fiesta Bowl over Florida. When the Big Ten Network’s propaganda arm produces shows about those Nebraska teams or Tom Osborne, the Phillips saga is whitewashed and ignored. Even 15 years later, Nebraska fans were supportive of Osborne’s decision to let the woman-beater help him win another title.

It’s not as if this occurred in some media vacuum because Twitter didn’t exist. People knew. And people were upset at Osborne’s actions.

The Phillips incident exemplifies one of the more infuriating aspects of following sports – trying to view the world through the prism of sports. The actions of Phillips were dissected in terms of whether or not he should play football, instead of dissecting whether or not he should be a free man. If you’re wondering – he is currently not a free man and won’t be for the next two decades.

This issue has not changed over the past 20 years. In 2012, Slate revealed that two-thirds of the NFL employed a player arrested for domestic violence. That same year saw two former players (Chad Ochocinco and Deion Sanders) involved in high-profile domestic violence incidents.

For all this chaos, there had been little outrage. In large part, this was due to the nature of domestic violence – we never see it. It happens behind closed doors. It happens out of the public’s view.

That changed dramatically when security cameras caught Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino.  Suddenly, the general public realized that domestic violence is not “past troubles” or a “an off-field incident” like commonly reported – but a frightening and disgusting act of aggression.

Still, the outrage over the Rice incident didn’t reach a boiling point until it intertwined back with sports. Even Rice’s disaster of a first apology – you know, the one where he talked about getting knocked down and made his wife apologize – didn’t rise above a wave of angry and confused tweets. It wasn’t until Rice’s laughable suspension of two games was handed down by Roger Goodell that people realized that smoking pot is twice as bad as striking a woman and changes in attitude were necessary.

The aftermath to the negative publicity was again couched within the confines of sports. As reported by the Washington Post, the NFL is looking to increase the suspension for such abuse to four to six games. Well, holy shit, problem solved, right?

Those who cover and watch sports like to use these games as a looking glass to view the real world and it’s a hopelessly outdated notion, one propped up to make us feel better about wasting so much time away watching something so trivial. We are now a half-century removed from when Billie Jean King could be a true spokesperson for women’s rights or Muhammad Ali could encapsulate the anti-war movement.

The reason for this disconnect is that athletes make too much money in 2014. They are now entitled, privileged citizens of the United States. Is there any doubt that if Ray Rice was an average person that he would be in jail right now?

We have reached the point where discussing the fallout from a domestic violence case can be construed only in terms of football games missed. It’s disgusting. It’s nauseating. It’s not changing.

joe mixon jail
At Oklahoma, a highly-touted freshman running back by the name of Joe Mixon punched a female in the face, knocked her out and broke several bones in her face. While Mixon claims it was in self-defense because he was being verbally assaulted with racial slurs, he still punched a woman in the face. I’m not sure how a 110-pound woman could pose a legit threat to an Oklahoma running back. There’s video of the punch, so there is nothing “alleged” about his actions. He was suspended earlier this week for the entire season.

The reaction from one Oklahoma blogger included this question, “How is this going to play in the locker room?”

If your sister or mother was punched in the face, is that one of the first, say, 1,000 questions you’d have? That blogger is far from the only person to discuss the Mixon case in football terms, but all it does is serve to minimize the crime.

As Ray Rice’s suspension was handed down, ESPN’s bottom line crawl said he was suspended for “allegedly striking his then-fiancé.”

It was beyond absurd. There was nothing alleged about the incident. It was caught on camera! He apologized for it! He was charged! He pled no-contest!

Yet if you were unaware of the news and read that crawl, you would have cause to question the league and feel sympathy for Rice. “They suspended him for allegedly doing something? Isn’t this America? What happened to due process?”

Domestic violence is a frightening and disturbing topic that we never discuss appropriately. The stats are sobering. Every year, 1 in 3 women who is a victim of homicide is murdered by her current or former partner. And most incidents are never reported – Rice’s wife declined to press further charges and likely would not have pursued any if she was knocked out in their home instead of a casino.

Football is not the sole reason for the lack of true progress on domestic violence – see Brown, Chris – but as the nation’s most popular form of entertainment, it holds an outsized place of importance in the American culture.

Millions of men have been told, via the sport, that domestic really isn’t that bad. It’s a significant problem in this country and one that will fade to the background until the next time.

And yes, there will be a next time. And a time after that. And a time after that…

So please remember that the next time Ray Rice gets a standing ovation. And, yes, there will be a next time.

Follow me on Twitter