For the past week, details of the night Brandon Marshall is accused of punching a woman during a Manhattan nightclub brawl in 2012 have unfurled in a federal civil courtroom. There was testimony from the woman, Christin Myles, who said Marshall punched her, leaving her eye in excruciating pain. “I have no doubt whatsoever” it was him, she said. This was countered yesterday by testimony from Marshall himself, who said he didn’t punch the woman and nearly cried while talking about what happened to his wife, who was hit in the head with a bottle when the fight began.
There’s video of what happened, though reporters at the trial make it sound a little less than conclusive. It’s grainy and has a slow frame rate. It does show Marshall’s right arm extending forward—Myles says that’s when Marshall punched her, while Marshall says he was trying to keep his balance while getting away from the scrum. NJ.com’s Dom Cosentino described it this way: “The video has a slow frame rate, but it might be possible for a reasonable person to conclude Marshall threw a punch.”
And yet the civil trial hasn’t gotten much attention, including on this website. A handful of local reporters have covered the daily ins and outs of the trial, but there hasn’t been a media throng that a player like Marshall—popular, successful, and in the largest media market in America—might expect. The coverage that does come out hasn’t generated much broader discussion in sports media. There are no columnists offering hot takes, no talking heads debating what it all means.
It’s an odd silence, and I can’t even say for certain what’s behind it. (Marshall probably benefits at least a bit from the good will he’s amassed over the years for the mundane reason that he knows how to give good quotes, which undeniably curries favor with beat reporters living life on a perpetual deadline.)
I can only say why, for me, it’s been tough to think about the Marshall trial: For several years, Marshall has been a success story, a player who came to terms with his borderline personality disorder and talked openly about his struggles and his life living with it to help destigmatize mental illness. He deserves immense credit for his work on that.
Before his diagnosis, Marshall was repeatedly accused of serious violence. His past includes accusations of theft, multiple cases of domestic violence involving an ex-girlfriend, and violence involving his own father. In 2011, his wife was charged with stabbing him; she said it was in self-defense, and the charges were dropped. All of these incidents took place before Marshall’s diagnosis—except for the club fight at issue in the trial. (No criminal charges, it should be noted, were filed.)
This is how life works. People change; people who have changed remain imperfect, get into complicated situations, and do wrong. Marshall has, by all accounts, turned his life around. I hope he keeps talking about mental illness because for too long it’s been treated like a secret people should be ashamed of, something that’s only worse in the sports world, given all the old adages about just getting tougher and shaking it off. But change doesn’t absolve him of responsibility for his past.
In some ways, the trial feels a bit like a reckoning of two competing narratives, one that has Marshall as troublemaker, the other of which has Marshall as reformed angel. Neither, of course, is true, because these aren’t narratives; this is a person.
The best example of this came before the trial, when Marshall’s lawyers argued that discussion about his borderline personality disorder should be excluded from the trial because “the Defendant’s mental health generally does not make it more or less likely that he punched Plaintiff,” as well as concerns the jury will think the disorder “leads to violence.” The woman’s lawyers responded that the request made no sense because these were topics Marshall himself had discussed publicly. The case docket doesn’t say how the judge ruled on the admissibility, but coverage of the trial doesn’t show much discussion of them.
That trial continues, and will draw to a close soon as early as today, at which point a jury will decide. It still strikes me as odd that Marshall and Myles didn’t settle. If anybody could reach a settlement and then issue a statement saying he had made mistakes in the past but had learned and was moving forward and be believed, it would be Marshall. (It’s of course possible that Marshall truly believes he is innocent and wants to prove it.) Whatever the reasons, the result is that credible testimony has been given that at the very least doesn’t make Marshall look good, and it deserves more coverage and more discussion. Critical looks shouldn’t be saved for just the people everyone already considers jerks.
This week, Greg Hardy took the airwaves of ESPN to proclaim his innocence and Adam Schefter said, essentially, that he was surprised to see that Hardy wasn’t a monster, as if anyone was ever 100 percent evil all the time or that managing to be polite on camera has any relevance to all the horrifying evidence from the night he was charged with beating up his ex-girlfriend. Marshall isn’t Hardy, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay to downplay what’s happening at this trial. It might not make for tidy resolutions, or be comfortable to think about, let alone debate over beers. But it is a reminder that real life and all the people in it are complicated.