This past year (2014) has added yet another case of a high profile athlete bringing violence and aggression home with them. What will it take before we as a society realize that something wrong here? Violence isn’t inherent in sports, nor are sports necessarily a cause for violence. However our culture of hero worshiping athletes, throwing money and PR people at them to cover up scandals in order to continue oiling the machine are glaringly obvious contributors. Of course it goes without saying that we as a people know more about these cases because the people involved are famous. Yes thats true. But what can we learn from them? What can we learn and improve on using these cases as examples?
On April 10, 2007, after more than 50 NFL players had been arrested in the previous football season, Commissioner Roger Goodell was widely hailed for instituting a newly stringent personal conduct policy. Mr. Goodell threatened to banish players for off-the-field transgressions and installed himself as the judge and jury presiding over every case.
In another case in 2008, Michael Boley, a linebacker with the Atlanta Falcons at the time, was suspended by the league for a game after he was charged with battery. His wife at the time had told the police that he “became physical with her.” The case did not go to trial.
In one of the higher-profile cases, Brandon Marshall, a wide receiver with the Denver Broncos at the time, was initially suspended for three games over events that included his being arrested on charges of assaulting his girlfriend. But his suspension was later reduced to one game.
In 2010, Tony McDaniel, a defensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins, was suspended for one game for violating the league’s personal conduct policy after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct after a domestic dispute with his live-in girlfriend, according to The Sun-Sentinel newspaper in South Florida. He was sentenced to probation and ordered to attend counseling.
And of course 2014 brought the domestic violence cases involving Ray Rice and his wife.
Out of these examples, one player was kept of out one game and then reinstated before an outcry led to his being suspended indefinitely. Another player played in one game, but is being kept out while still being paid. McDonald has continued to play for the team, which has said it is waiting for his case to be resolved judicially. And Ray Rice, well, that was a mess made worse by the NFL’s initial unwillingness to acknowledge it. There are countless others in sports that have been high profile cases of not just domestic violence but far more serious offenses: i.e. OJ Simpson’s “trial of the century” for the murder of his ex wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman; Michael Vick and his very high profile dog fighting case (separate blog on this later).
It’s not clear if on-field violent behavior leads to off-field violence. Common sense suggests that people who become accustomed to using physical intimidation and violence in sport naturally revert to those behaviors when facing conflict outside of sport. “Athletes who hang out at bars, restaurants, or clubs are often targets for other tough guys, who bait them with insults and disrespect. The athlete, who feels his manhood is being challenged, may struggle not to respond with physical force. However, athletes who do respond physically may be simply reflecting cultural upbringing that was established outside of sport.” (Social Issues in Sports) Sport may not be the cause of violence, but rather a result of the athletes’ upbringing or natural disposition, which led them to choose a violent sport. It would be difficult to sum up one cause or contributing factor.