Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Real Story Behind NFL's Fumble: Domestic Violence In America

Domestic violence (noun) 1. acts of violence or abuse against a person living in one's household, especially a member of one's immediate family.    –Random House Dictionary

It is not about football.  Not finally. Not really. I’ll say that right up front. 

True: NFL star players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson are both accused of domestic violence and their alleged crimes have dominated the news for weeks.  Rice caught on tape punching into unconsciousness his then fiancĂ© Janay Palmer, dragging her limp body out of a hotel elevator.  Peterson indicted for child abuse, using a switch (a tree branch) to whip his four year old son’s backside. Rice, Peterson and the NFL’s handling of these and other domestic violence cases have elicited widespread anger and shock.

That’s good. We should be angry that a man, any man, would use his physical power to hurt another, a woman, a little boy. Should be angry at the clumsy, insensitive, “save the brand at all costs” response by the NFL.  Should feel uncomfortable at cheering on field violence by modern day gladiators, even as a few of them can’t seem to stop throwing punches once the whistle blows.  

But then let’s face the true issue here: domestic violence in America.  That’s what been lost in this culture wide conversation about Rice, Peterson and the NFL. The victims. The ugly truth about battered women and children in our nation. The millions of heartbreaking stories beyond the headlines: black eyes hidden behind sunglasses, purple welts and bruises explained away as “old school discipline”, families fleeing in the dead of night for shelter from a raging abuser.

That’s the story here, the real tragedy, yet this is still not being reported or talked about, not nearly enough. Not clearly enough.  Instead fans, pundits and players continue to worry if the NFL can “redeem” itself as America’s national pastime. Wonder if Rice and Peterson will ever play again.  Speculate about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s job security. Sponsors fear besmirched reputations for being associated with abuse.  Networks scramble to maintain sacred TV ratings.

So much hand wringing. So many crocodile tears. Such wasted cultural energy, worrying about “the game”, as if whatever happens on the field is ever as important as the shameful and brutal acts which happen behind closed doors.

It is not about football.

It is instead about this: the “twenty people per minute [who] are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the United States…more than 10 million women and men per year…the nearly 2 million women [who] are raped in a year and over 7 million women and men [who] are victims of stalking in a year.” (The Centers for Disease Control, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 2010).

It is about this: America’s “678,810 victims of child abuse and neglect….a rate of 9.2 victims per 1,000 children in the [U.S.] population.” It is about the fact that, “Victims in their first year of life had the highest rate of victimization at 21.9 per 1,000 children of the same age in the national population.”  (The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Child Maltreatment Report, 2012).

But because these statistics are so much more difficult to contemplate than the sordid soap opera which is now the NFL, the temptation is to just look away.  Stick to the scores on the field. Try to go back to “normal”. Let someone else worry about it. I get why we may want to respond thus.  Domestic violence is scary. It is stomach churning. It is awful.

But as a lifelong football fan, as a Pastor, and as a person of faith, I can’t turn away from the innocent and the powerless who are abused, who need our help, and who need our attention.  Now.

It is not about football. It is about a battered woman, a beaten child, life and death.  That’s the real story.  The real page one banner headline.   

It is not about football.


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