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Sports and Domestic Violence

Everyone is part of the problem, so let's be part of the solution instead.

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I can't even explain this
I can't even explain this
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

This has been a pretty horrible week for sports in general. We're all gritting our teeth and hoping to get to the end of it without any more horrific news coming down the wires.

As a culture, we spend all year looking forward to that mythic four month time frame we call "football season". We put off weddings, organize schedules, and plan our lives around what we like to think is the best time of year. There's nothing like going over to your buddy's office and trash talking the Aggies or complaining about Nick Saban.

I could pretend the games will take my mind off things, but they won't. The games are, by and large, pretty terrible, but even if there was wall-to-wall epic rivalries this weekend, what would it say about us that we could be so easily distracted? We want to be talking about the fun of football season and not the horrors of domestic violence or the football-first culture at Penn St.

But that's the point, really. When is the time we want to talk about domestic violence? We like to push the unpleasant things to back of our collective consciousness, and there's never a right time to bring it up. We don't want to hear it, and we don't want to talk about it.

This is probably why domestic violence goes so unreported. So let's go to the Department of Justice for some facts about domestic violence:

  • 42 million women will experience physical violence, rape, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime
  • 18 million women have been victims of sexual assault
  • 1 in 3 women will experience physical violence
  • 1 in 10 women will be raped by an intimate partner
  • Over 1,000 women were killed by their male partner in 2010
  • 1 in 5 women who have experienced intimate partner violence were between the ages of 11 and 17 at the time of their first violent encounter
  • 20 to 37 percent of adult women are victims of dating violence
  • 18 percent of American women have been raped
  • 44.6 percent of American women have been victims of sexual violence
  • 1 in 10 American women have been raped by an intimate partner
  • 75 percent of women who have been raped were first raped before the 25th birthday

There are no shortage of horrifying statistics, but they are all capped by this one: Only 1 in 5 women will report their victimization to the police. It is even less likely they will report the crime when perpetrated by an intimate partner, despite injury rates being higher among women victimized by an intimate partner than a stranger.

Ray Rice is not the first football player guilty of domestic violence. Jim Brown, for example, is still beloved despite a history of domestic abuse. Nor is he even the most recent. Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence on August 31, yet he suited up and played for the 49ers on the opening weekend. Rice just happens to be the most visible right now. What makes his story so awful is not how outlandish it is, but by how terrifyingly normal it is.

Nor is this an NFL problem, or even a sports problem. This is a problem for the society at large. I don't believe there is any evidence that athletes abuse women at a higher rate than any other profession. The rates of abuse are so staggering that it is hard to pin this on just one industry or recreation. This is all of us. This is who we are. And it needs to stop.

James Brown went on television before the Ravens game last night and delivered a stirring sermon on not just domestic violence, but the entire culture of masculinity. To quote Brown:

But wouldn't it be productive if this collective outrage - as my colleagues have said - could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help from so many women? And, as they said, do something about it? Like an ongoing, comprehensive education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about. And it starts with how we view women.

"Our language is important. For example, when a guy says, "You throw the ball like a girl," or "You're a little sissy," it reflects an attitude that devalues women, and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion.

He is, of course, absolutely right. We teach our children from a very young age that being like a girl is somehow lesser or shameful. It is absolutely wrong and completely indefensible. We shame boys by calling them "girly" or "sissy", and not only do our boys internalize that message, so do our girls. We've taught not just one generation, but all of our generations, that being a girl is somehow lesser than being a boy.

This is how we have boys who grow into men who beat women. And how we have girls who grow into women who do not report these assaults due to their own shame and guilt, as if they deserved it simply for being a girl.

We do our best here to not use such language when describing the sports we love. We've tried, with varying degrees of success, to cover women's sports, particularly the gymnastics team. We try not to treat women as mere tokens who only exist to be ogled by the men for our own personal sexual gratification. And if we fail to meet the standard of treating women athletes, or any women, as anything less than what they are, than we deserve to be called out on it by the community here.

Sports are recreation, and they are also community. I'm bringing my daughter to campus in a few weeks for a football game, and I want her to feel every bit of the wonderful belonging that I feel among the Tiger faithful. I don't want her to hold the game at arms' length because of a well-justified but unspoken "but" that hangs over everything.

This blog needs to do better. LSU needs to do better. Football needs to do better. Sports need to do better. Our whole culture needs to do better. It starts with each of us, and there is no excuse for our behavior, however minor, which have contributed to this epidemic of domestic violence.

Our silence is consent. It is time, past time in fact, to talk about this. One instance of sexual assault is one to many. 18 million is a condemnation of our entire society. We can be better, so let's be better.