Domestic Violence Center Stage

It is all over the news that the NFL has a problem, as a number of players were indicted for domestic violence or are under investigation for that. The problem the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, is having relates to the public relations and money, not domestic violence specifically. When league sponsors began to make statements and withdraw support for the NFL, then Goodell stepped up to actually act like he cared and do something about the crimes his players were committing. It took his concern for money for him to take more appropriate action, not facing the issue of criminal violence committed by his players.

At his press conference on 9/19/14 the media took their job seriously enough to actually confront the commissioner with difficult questions. I am gratified by that because the media often do not care about domestic violence or violence against women perpetrated by football players. Consider what happened in Steubenville Ohio in March of 2013 when two football players were found guilty of raping a sixteen-year old girl. The media reacted with empathy for the rapists – not the girl they victimized. The boys who raped her were proud of what they did and put it out on social media. They believed they would not be held accountable and they would be protected – because they were football players. Where does that belief come from? Do our NFL players and even the commissioner believe they will be able to get away with that behavior because there is no one to hold them accountable? Our society tends to idealize football players and men in the military and those men count on that to protect them from their worst actions.

They have gotten away with it and the NFL has covered up violence by their players against their girlfriends and wives. Now we see Roger Goodell doing his best to cover up his own accountability in not dealing with this issue appropriately. His focus is the billions of dollars at stake and anything that could jeopardize that. Do not be fooled into believing his words and actions now are about caring about women or even his players, it is about his bottom line.

Domestic violence in the military it is very similar. Men in the military, like those football players, believe they will be protected from accountability because their leaders will cover up for them and maintain the image of the military at all costs, even the cost of lives of women, especially wives and mothers. Leaders who condone and cover up these crimes and behavior patterns are equally responsible for the outcomes. In 2002 there were several murders at Fort Bragg that the military tried desperately to cover up, in fact there was a systematic denial and cover up of rampant family abuse by soldiers returning home from combat, but the military dealt with it as a public relations issue and said it was just an anomaly when it was only the tip of the iceberg. Many wives were frightened and calling into hotlines and spilling out the gruesome details of beatings and abuse while the military continued to act as though it was not happening. Chuck Fager, who wrote about the killings in, “Reflection: Domestic Murders at Fort Bragg.” Quaker House 19 August 2002, asked the question: “What accounts for this institutional tolerance of domestic violence?” Self-protection. Protect the officer’s career and the image of the military corps at all costs.

Lutz and Elliston in the article “Domestic Terror” The Nation, 14 October 2002, said: “This poor record-keeping and apparent reluctance to prosecute offenders can be explained by the military’s institutional interests in burying the problem of domestic violence.” They were referring to the data from the year 2000 on this subject in our military. It is time the NFL and our military stand up and be bold by holding offenders accountable for their crimes. Model that, rather than covering up.

It is important to teach boys in society and men in the military and football, to respect women, and that must be consistently modeled and demonstrated through behavior in our homes, communities and in our military. What boys see and hear modeled toward women in their lives and from their football heroes and what men see and hear modeled toward women in service, is what they believe is appropriate and how they will treat women. (Paraphrase from “Spousal Abuse and Betrayal,” Women Under Fire: Abuse in the Military, (Brown Sparrow Publishing, 2013)