(TW: domestic violence, assault)
It appears the NFL’s program that purports to educate players and staff about domestic violence is going really well.
This morning, a video of former Jets running back Zac Stacy violently assaulting the mother of his child is making the rounds on Twitter. Warning: This video is extremely graphic in nature. View at your own discretion.
The reaction from other NFL players was swift and damning.
It’s entirely understandable where Davante Adams is coming from. If you haven’t seen that kind of violence in your life, it is hard to believe that people behave that way towards others, especially professional athletes, who are, by and large, much bigger and stronger than their romantic partners. But it’s the fact that so many people don’t believe this kind of abuse happens that makes it so hard to combat.
If the woman in the video had come forward about Stacy’s abuse, maybe a few weeks later, maybe longer than that — the average abuse victim will try to leave seven times before they actually make it out — it’s likely that her allegations, without the video, would go nowhere. Police would ask why she waited so long to report. So would the press. And the fans. Eventually, she’d be labeled by social media as a “gold digger” who was just trying to cash in on her relationship with a former NFL player. Does anyone remember what happened with Janay Rice’s allegations before the video of Ray Rice punching her in the face and knocking her out exploded all over the internet? Neither do I. It’s almost as if the naysayers believe that every legitimate incident of domestic abuse is caught on tape somewhere and, if the victim can’t produce it, it’s proof that she’s lying.
But the sad fact is that domestic abuse takes place in the shadows much more regularly than any of us would like to believe.
The Stacy video wasn’t the only bit of news involving the NFL and domestic violence to break this morning, as the Chicago Tribune reported that Joann Blakney is suing Bears defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. for assault, battery, and intentional infliction of emotional distress — and the Chicago Bears for negligent supervision and defamation — following a physical fight at a North Carolina hotel last October. And after reading the report, I’m not sure which of these two allegations are more disturbing. Here’s the complaint against Edwards:
“According to the suit, Blakney, who said she was pregnant, said she had consensual oral sex with Edwards but he became violent when she rejected his request to have intercourse. In the complaint, she accused Edwards of yanking her off the floor, trying to put his hand down her pants, hitting her in the face after she began recording him, pulling her off the bed and causing her stomach to hit his body, twisting her nails backward, dragging her to the door of the hotel room and, after she followed and filmed him while he was leaving, hitting her on the arm as he got on the elevator. She said in the complaint she at one point hit Edwards in the side to try to free herself.”
Or the one against the Bears:
“In the complaint, Blakney said that despite her repeated attempts to have someone call the police, Burton first retrieved four Bears employees, who were not identified by name in the suit. Blakney alleged in the complaint that Bears employees asked if she wanted or needed money, brought Edwards to her despite her wishes and falsely said publicly she was a prostitute. She said in the complaint she eventually called police herself.”
The complaint also alleges that Edwards’ agent, Peter Schaeffer, sent an email to Blakney’s attorney, “reminding them Edwards had ‘a plethora of texts, DMs, pictures, and videos’ that were ‘most interesting and revealing.’” Schaffer confirmed to the Tribune they had messages from Blakney to Edwards.” None of that, though, means an assault didn’t take place. The police report lists both Blakney and Edwards as victims, and Blakney was charged with misdemeanor assault as a result of the incident. A criminal summons was also issued for Edwards as a result of the altercation, but he has not returned to North Carolina since. Hence, the summons has never been served.
In a laugh-out-loud moment, the Tribune reported that Edwards’ agent said that he believed the NFL’s investigation because “the league ‘is really sensitive to this subject matter.’” Laugh. Out. Loud.
Needless to say, allegations of trying to pay off an alleged victim and mislabeling her as a sex worker are troubling, as is the fact that someone called the Bears, rather than the police, when Blakney asked for help. I hope to God that is not what the NFL is telling teams to do. Both the Bears and Edwards deny the allegations, and while the NFL investigated and found there was insufficient evidence to determine that Edwards had violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy in July, the Bears didn’t wait that long to re-up Edwards, signing him to a three-year contract in March, before the NFL had completed their report. Despite how many times we hear “there is no place for domestic violence in the NFL,” it’s clear that there is always plenty of room, as long as lawyers and spokespeople and agents can line up enough money and power and influence to cast doubt on the victim’s story.
And here is where the real problem with the NFL’s supposed attempts at stemming domestic violence: It’s way too superficial. Anyone who has worked in the domestic violence area will tell you that many cases of abuse are not cut and dried. Oftentimes victims fight back. Sometimes abusers wind up with injuries. Sometimes victims start arguments with their abusers. Sometimes victims are unlikeable or unable to tell their story coherently.
And despite having the most resources, the NFL doesn’t have the inclination to do a deep dive into a relationship, to determine who is an abuser and who is a victim. Or to determine what actually happened in any given incident. Hell, the press has oftentimes come up with more information than the league itself. See, e.g., the Ray Rice video (obtained by TMZ) and Josh Brown’s incriminating files (obtained by Diana Moskovitz). If the league can find a way to foist off an incident of abuse as no big deal, or turn it into a mutual fight, they will.
Despite a lot of talk and the “No More” commercials running during NFL games, it’s hard to say the league has really made a dent in the problem of domestic abuse in its ranks. After all, each and every victim still has to go up against a team of lawyers, agents, and PR people (not to mention fans, teammates and the team itself) each time an allegation is levied, and is forced to weigh the importance of justice against what they know will happen to them in the press and on social media. The league, unlike MLB, doesn’t have a standalone policy against domestic violence or sexual assault and, also unlike MLB, it makes no attempt to rehabilitate abusive players.
The NFL’s supposed six-game baseline suspension is purely punitive, with no requirements that the player seek a psychological evaluation or undergo counseling. In cases where the victim and abuser are still in a relationship, that leaves the victim alone with one angry, unpaid, uncounseled NFL player.
Like the public, it appears NFL players have also gotten the message that the league’s new personal conduct policy, which was rolled out in 2014 in the wake of the Ray Rice video, is exactly what the public has largely come to view it as: Optics.
If you or someone you love has experienced intimate partner violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE (7233).