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Opinion: Fans, Like the N.F.L., Are Too Lenient on Domestic Violence


Editor’s note: October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. The campaign coincides with a time period that has featured a string of N.F.L. player arrests causing  many people wondering about the true costs hidden in America’s pastime. Author, attorney, and advocate Arita Bohannan weighs in on the N.F.L. and the handling of its domestic violence problem by Commissioner Roger Goodell.

 

The fascinating thing about having lunch at Twin Peaks in the wake another, high profile athlete, who loses his cool on a loved one, is overhearing the conversations and debates. They make me cringe.  

 

Case in point: Adrian Peterson pled not guilty to charges of reckless or negligent injury to his child following an incident where he used a switch, or small tree branch, to “discipline” his son, leaving bruises. I munch on chips and queso and try not to choke on them while the table next to me debates the issue. “It’s not like he meant to hurt the kid,” or “Look, the kid was beating up his brother. I think he needed a good ass-whooping,” and “He had a few cuts and bruises… they are making it sound like he nearly beat the kid to death.”

 

Seriously?  That’s our qualifier, folks? The kid wasn’t ‘nearly beat to death’ so Adrian Peterson gets a pass?

 

For those fans considering sending me hate mail for my opinion, let me remind you that even if he is convicted he faces six months to two years in state prison at most. More likely he will be placed on probation as a first-time offender. If you are curious about the N.F.L’s discipline under the league's “enhanced domestic violence policy”, he may be suspended for up to six weeks.  

 

This is not the same as stating that he will be suspended for six weeks, mind you. Way to go N.F.L… up to six whole weeks. That really screams no tolerance, now doesn’t it? But of course, this is just another player in a long list accused of domestic violence of some type.

 

The San Francisco 49ers Ray McDonald was arrested in August on felony domestic violence charges after leaving visible injuries on his pregnant fiancée. The N.F.L initially said that he would be sidelined with pay. Of course, when the hearing was delayed and fewer eyes were watching, McDonald joined his team for practice and then games. In fact, McDonald has 12 tackles in four games. The fact that he brags on his ability to hit is not lost on me. In fact, we should all tune in for the San Francisco v. Carolina game so we can watch McDonald play Greg Hardy who was just convicted of Domestic Violence in July. Oh…you thought he was suspended or even in jail?  

 

One not so lucky is Ray Rice. Though the N.F.L knew that he battered his then girlfriend in an elevator to the point that she was literally knocked unconscious, they were only going to give him a two game suspension.  ]He would have kept the other 14 games, his Madden Game commissions, and his many endorsements. Mum would have been the word. Unfortunately for the N.F.L and Rice, someone at TMZ had a heart and/or brain and released the video showing a brutal strike that has been replayed ad nauseam on television. My personal favorite is the N.F.L.’s that they didn’t know what was on the tape. Seriously? You knew she was hit.  You knew she was knocked unconscious. You knew there was a tape. I bet N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell hates it when these incidents interrupt football.

 

I’ve practiced family law for over 13 years and have sat on the Board for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children nearly a decade. The N.F.L, in many ways, continues to abuse victims by refusing to rid their business of offender, but let’s be fair. It’s not just the N.F.L. In conversations across the country people are debating the issues surround the Ray Rice tape: ‘Was he provoked?’ ‘Is she doing it for the money?’ ‘I think she just wanted attention, don’t you?’ ‘I didn’t see bruises, so what’s the big deal?’ As one of my own clients told me just before his domestic violence trial, “I only hit her a little and she was hardly even bleeding.” 

 

So therein lies, in my humble opinion, the problem: Public opinion and our level of tolerance.

 

Our state, Louisiana, has made great strides in the protection of abuse victims. We have strong laws that offer many protections. With no money and no lawyer, a victim can apply for and receive a protective order. As I tell my clients, though, a protective order is just a piece of paper, and it will not protect you from an abuser while the police are on their way. 

 

The problem is not the law, and is only in small part the fault of policing agencies. The problem is public perception. Why do we debate whether or not its abuse when there are only “small bruises”? Why do we debate whether someone should be responsible for being knocked unconscious? Why do we tolerate the grey areas of abuse?  Domestic violence is black and white… or it should be. After all, it is life and death.

 

In Louisiana last year, there were 46 people, including children, whose deaths were directly related to domestic violence. And this does not include murder-suicide which is not classified as domestic violence for the purposes of that particular study. We rank second in the whole nation for these murders. In fact, we have been in the top ten for nearly all of the last 17 years. According to the F.B.I, a woman is battered every 15 seconds. There were stabbings, shootings, and just plain beaten to death. 

 

For those of you who are wondering why someone in these situations doesn’t just leave, it’s because the greatest risk of abuse occurs when people leave, threaten to leave, or threaten to report the abuse. It always amazes me how often I am asked that question. 

 

Unlike the women abused by N.F.L athletes, most people in these studies suffer their abuse in silence. While the N.F.L debates their contractual ability to punish and their fear of civil lawsuits if the ‘overreact’, someone else is struck and/or murdered. There are no cameras here, no media, no big lawsuits to chase. There is just victim and abuser. The victim suffers blows alone; lives in silence; prays the abuser leaves their children alone; hopes work wasn’t too bad; the house is clean enough, or too many beers or a thousand other things that could trigger rage doesn’t happen.

 

So while it is always appreciated when light is shone on the dark secrets of domestic violence, let’s be honest about the effect. When huge, and very public, corporations such as the N.F.L do their best to dim the light of public awareness so that it doesn’t interfere to greatly with their ratings, Madden Game money, sponsorships or (heaven forbid) their image, the cause is weakened. When the N.F.L announces that it’s new policies will really punish players with up to a six week suspension, the cause not only feels weakened, but cheapened.

 

If you tolerate small bruises, you’ll tolerate larger ones. And unlike football, this is not a game.

 

The text above is a letter to the editor and expresses only the opinion of the author, not NOLA Defender or NOLA Defender's Editorial Board.

Arita M. L. Bohannan is the author of Docket No. 76 and a practicing attorney in the New Orleans metropolitan area. She also serves as a member of the board of Board for the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children.

 




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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde

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