Friday, September 12, 2014

“I Thought High-Profile People Get Away With Stuff Like This.”

in honor of both greg hardy choking his girlfriend on top of a couch full of assault weapons and ray rice showing his fiancĂ© his left fist because she's not ready for his right, i've decided to post this article i wrote a few years back but never finalized. it’s about the culture of violence in sports. but more than that, it's about the culture that lets the people who commit violent acts get away with it.

Ray Rice beating the mother of his children.
In the Middle Ages, during peacetime, when knights had no one to fight, no dragons to slay, nothing to do—they would get into trouble. The kind of trouble that involved young ladies and drink and violence. Who could stop them?—they were the biggest, the strongest, and filled with a testosterone-soaked sense of self-entitlement. They had their way with whoever, whenever. Consequences be damned.

To control the knights, the people of the Middle Ages invented something called Courtly Love. And the point of courtly love was, as C.S. Lewis wrote: “Love of a highly specialized sort, whose characteristics may be enumerated as Humility, Courtesy” ... “and the Religion of Love.” In practice, what it was, was a way to get those huge, violent doofuses to stop raping women, killing other young men, and destroying everything.

Now, in a different time, but with a similar problem, it’s doubtful that the concept of courtly love would stop professional athletes from committing violence against women. But, there’s no doubt, considering recent headlines...something has to be done.

"Take Saints defensive end Will Smith. On November 27, 2010, police in Lafayette, Louisiana, observed Smith dragging his wife by the hair down the street from a club. Smith was arrested him and charged him with domestic violence. Those charges were dropped once Smith completed a “diversion program,” which means he avoided prosecution by agreeing to community service and counseling—a common result that you’ll find a lot in this essay."
Then there’s the case of Big Ben Roethlisberger, who hangs out at college bars and trades shots with college-aged girls (17 to 21 years old). Apparently one time he got a bunch of girls drunk, then took one of them to the bathroom. He got his bodyguards to keep her friends away while he, well, he didn’t perform that Carlos Acosta variation he’s been working on. Charges were later dropped.

In 1998, Buffalo Bill linebacker Cornelius Bennett pleaded guilty to sexual assault involving “vicious acts” according to Erie County judge John V. Rogowski. So vicious, the judge had no choice but to sentence him to 60 whole days in jail, a sentence the judge said he “fully deserved.” Bennett ended up serving 36 days.

Which brings us to Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor, who hired pimps to bring him underage girls. And then there’s Santonio Holmes, who threw a glass at a woman’s head in a nightclub. (Outside the club, Holmes offered the woman money telling her he was a football player and thus couldn’t face charges.) Then there’s real POS Brian Giles, who slapped his pregnant girlfriend causing her to miscarry. Or his brother Marcus Giles. Or Phillip Merling, busted for punching his pregnant girlfriend in the face. Or Leroy Hill, busted for smacking around his girlfriend. Or Jermaine Phillips, who was arrested for domestic assault, aka strangulation. Or Michael Pittman, who has a history of domestic violence so long, I’ll just link here. (A history that only goes up to 2003, mind you.)

Chad Ochocinco prefers to keep things old school, head-butting
his ex-wife Evelyn Lozada
All of them implicated in committing violence against women.

Years ago, I defended sports and the sports culture from a woman in a graduate school class who said that sports bred violence and aggression in men. I said that there were hundreds and hundreds of athletes who were good husbands and honorable men. And to that I hold. There are many decent family men, athletes we can take pride in.

Yet…we can’t stick our heads in the sand. After hundreds of reports of violence committed against women by professional athletes—incidents so commonplace that as fans, we aren’t even shocked anymore—one has to wonder: Do sports, in fact, lead to violent aggression?

My answer is no. But with a caveat. It’s not the sports, but the culture surrounding them. It’s not the violence they commit inside the lines. It’s the violence they commit off the field…without any consequences.

In a 2003 article in USA Today, where reporters investigated 168 sexual assault allegations filed against athletes, only 22 went to trial and only 6 resulted in conviction. When compared to the general public, where there is an 85% conviction rate, the athlete’s rate is not just startling, it’s “What the Holy Crap?” ridiculous. Over two-thirds of the athletes are never even charged.

For instance, USA Today brings up the 1996 case where two Virginia Tech football players were indicted with rape and attempted sodomy of a female student in their apartment. Each conceded that the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them of attempted aggravated sexual battery, but did not admit guilt. Each received a one-year suspended sentence.

In an essay entitled “Out of Bounds: The Truth About Athletes and Rape” by writer Jill Neimark, she discusses the culture of rape on college campuses and in the professional sports world. “Remember that athletics is not the problem—but cultures that glorify athletes more than anything else.”

The Love
And that culture leads to cases like these. “The ‘hotshot syndrome’ is inevitably part of team sports,” says Dr. Gondolf, in the book Sport in Contemporary Society: An Anthology. “If you’re an athlete in college, you’re given a scholarship, a nice dorm room, doctors, trainers, a lot of support and attention, and fans and cheerleaders who ogle you—that sense of privilege influences you, and some guys may then think: ‘I deserve something for this. I can take women, the rules don’t apply to me.’ They feel they’re above the law.”

“I used to have girls call me up,” says one unidentified former college quarterback, “and say, ‘I go to football games and watch you, I look at your picture in the program, I’m writing a paper on you.’ It happened all the time. You get this attitude where you can do anything you want and nobody is ever going to say anything to you.”

Neil DeMause’s article in the Village Voice “Punch like a Man,” quotes experts in athletes and violence who say it’s the sense of entitlement that results that is the key: Athletes are told from high school on up that their athletic prowess puts them above the law—by the cops who let them off for speeding tickets, by the club owners who hush up their abusive behavior in order to ensure a steady flow of celebrities through their doors, by the college administrators and pro team officials who cut deals to keep their star players on the field. “If you give somebody so much extra privilege in certain areas, and so much adulation, it warps their sense of what their boundaries are. I don’t want to say it does it to everybody, but that’s a very common dynamic,” says Stephen Grams, whose Tucson-based SAGE is one of the first licensed batterer-counseling groups in the country.

The list of guns on Greg Hardy's futon as he choked
Nicole Holder. All those guns...and a futon? Hardy, really?
Let’s play devil’s advocate for a moment. Athletes—major ones, at least—are celebrities. Aren’t they therefore targets for women who cry rape even though none occurred, just to extort money from these athletes?

It’s certainly possible. But it doesn’t explain accusations from women at smaller colleges where the athletes have virtually no chance to make it big and become rich. In addition, an FBI investigation into rape accusations put the number of false rape reports at roughly eight percent. Even if that number is grossly underestimated, we would still have to conclude that there are a lot of accusations that are true (and that’s not accounting for the attacks that aren’t reported).

So if there are athletes committing some of the most heinous crimes imaginable, across the board—from Florida State to Idaho State—how is it possible that they get off with just a wrist slap? In “Out of Bounds: The Truth About Athletes and Rape,” Niemark quotes Dr. Claire Walsh: “We don’t want to believe our athletes are capable of this. So we immediately rename it, call it group sex, and perform a character assassination on the victim. It’s her fault— no matter what the circumstances…When we’re talking about athletic teams and gang rape, we see how, time after time, the entire community comes to the support of the team. Athletes are very important in the fabric of a campus or town. They keep alumni interested, and produce money for the community.”

The Money
Frostee Rucker, at 13, was arrested for raping a childhood friend. Ultimately, Rucker was acquitted in juvenile court after many members of the community came forward in his defense citing his being an outstanding student athlete with potential and a very upstanding individual. Rape notwithstanding.

At Colorado State, Rucker was accused and charged with sexual assault of a fellow CSU athlete who claimed that he had forced himself on her. However, the accuser eventually refused to testify, as did another female student at Colorado State who claimed to have been assaulted by Rucker. He was charged with simple assault. He then transferred to USC.

It continues. At USC, Rucker is charged with assault and domestic violence. According to ex-girlfriend Joelle Branshe, Rucker would habitually rough her up, smack her down, and beat her up. Rucker settled the matter out of court and didn’t receive any punishment at all.

So where does all the negligent justice lead to? Well it leads to here. Some wife-beating that results in a sentence of three years probation, a “harsh” $520-dollar fine, and the obligatory 750 hours of community service. And a one-game suspension from the NFL.

And it continues. Jameis Winston, Heisman Award Winner and certain first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, was involved in a sexual assault scandal that occurred in 2012. The accuser was found to have several bruises, and tests would later find semen on her underwear. But an examination by The New York Times has found that there was virtually no investigation at all, “either by the police or the university.” The police didn’t interview Winston for two weeks, never obtained his DNA and—showing either massive negligence and incompetence, or deliberate malfeasance—by the time the investigation asked for a recording of the sexual encounter, it had been erased. “They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” said the prosecutor Mr. Meggs. The Times continues:

“The case has unfolded as colleges and universities across the country are facing rising criticism over how they deal with sexual assault, as well as questions about whether athletes sometimes receive preferential treatment. The Times’ examination—based on police and university records, as well as interviews with people close to the case, including lawyers and sexual assault experts—found that, in the Winston case, Florida State did little to determine what had happened. University administrators, in apparent violation of federal law, did not promptly investigate either the rape accusation or the witness’s admission that he had videotaped part of the encounter.”

“Why did the school not even attempt to investigate the matter until after the football season?” said John Clune, another lawyer for the accuser.

Simply put, when an athlete commits a crime a crime against a woman, it gets pushed aside due to the money they raise for the school (or professional ball club). Indeed, in 2013, Mr. Winston’s accuser and another Florida State student sued the Tallahassee police department alleging that during the Winston investigation the PD investigated them instead of the star Florida State quarterback.

Marci, a student at Florida State in 1999, was raped. Like Winston's
accuser, she received no help from the Tallahassee police. Her
sorority has received bomb threats since unconfirmed
rumors pinpoint's accuser as a member of the sorority.
The Times does a quick review of the money made at Florida State. “…the Seminole Boosters, a nonprofit organization…with nearly $150 million in assets, that is the primary financier of Florida State athletics, according to records and a lawyer for the boosters. It also paid roughly a quarter of the $602,000 salary of the university president, Eric Barron…” Boosters gave all that money to the school, including the university president. Why would Florida State University hinder that moneymaking process?

The 2013 Florida State national football championship season generated millions of dollars for the athletic department and city businesses. So Florida State tried to bury the incident. And if you think this was the first time a possible crime was ignored . . . “A decade before the Winston case, the inspector general found that Florida State had violated its policy when the athletic department failed to inform the campus police of a rape accusation against one of its standout football players. Mr. Ruiz, the former prosecutor who handled the case for the state attorney’s office, recalled that the coach at the time, the revered Bobby Bowden, attempted to convince him that a crime had not occurred. A jury eventually acquitted the player.” Money takes precedence.

Average Angels
Recently, on NPR, longtime sports commentator Frank Deford took a leave of his senses and argued that we should essentially ignore the fact that athletes commit crimes. Here’s Deford:

“What always confounds me is the premise that Commissioner Roger Goodell cited—as do the other so-called czars of sport—that their players ‘have to be held to a higher standard.’ But why? Why, pray, of all people, are athletes, pretty much alone in our society, expected to be sweeter than the average angel?”

Well, they need not be angels. But they shouldn’t be treated as it they were above the law. Getting wrist slaps for battery and rape shouldn’t be tolerated because they can hit home runs or sack quarterbacks. They should be held accountable for their actions. Just like any average angel.

Is it too much to expect for them to behave like normal people? And expect justice when they don’t? Is it really unrealistic for the public to expect players to not choke and slap their wives, and point a loaded handgun at her head in front of their children (1). Or to expect a player to not threaten to kill his wife, then go out and impregnate a 17-year-old foster child, and then throw a Gatorade bottle at said foster child when she tells the athlete about the pregnancy (2). Or knowingly commit statutory rape of a 14-year-old girl, whom you knew for 4 years, after getting her drunk (3). Or sexually assault a girl in a dorm room, grope another girl in a crowded bar and tell her how she loved it in an obscenity-laced tirade, then “allegedly” rape another girl twice in two days, the second time in front of his teammates (4).

Bobby Chouinard (1) played two more seasons after the incident above. He actually was arrested and served time for holding a gun to his wife’s head while she begged for her life on Christmas Day 1998. But he got to serve his year in jail in three-month increments so he could still play baseball. Elijah Dukes (2) was arrested four times for battery and once for assault before the above incident happened in 2007. He played two more seasons in the MLB, making just short of a million dollars. (3) DeShawn Stevenson, for the statutory rape in 2001, served as (of all things) a celebrity youth counselor at basketball camps for 103 hours. He played in the NBA until 2013 and has made almost 30 million dollars, not including his endorsements. (4) Christian Peter, for the three incidents above, was suspended for, wait for it, an exhibition game, then served 18 months of a suspended sentence. Afterwards, Peter played six years in the NFL. In 2006, Peter was named to the University of Nebraska Hall of Fame.

In 1998 article, Greg Aiello, NFL communications director, said something that rings very true today, sixteen years later:

“We’re not the criminal justice system. We can’t cure every ill in society. You know, we’re putting on football games. And unless it impacts on the business, we have to be very careful [from a legal standpoint] about disciplinary action we take.”

Juliette Terzieff wrote in, “Grooming, training and marketing sports stars is a multi-million dollar industry that takes root early on as universities invest alumni donations heavily into their athletic programs.” So universities realize that they need athletes to play to get their alumni to donate large sums of money. And thus players know they will get protection when they get into trouble. Because doing something would impact business.

Above the Law
We know why Universities and professional sports tolerate athletes who commit assault and rape. Why would society? One theory: Athletes get accolades from society as a result of their violence on the field— and so to a certain extent we as a society have come to expect them to act the same way off it. “Why should we expect them to be like us? They’re inhuman barbarians. Playing a barbaric game destroying each other like gladiators. They’re not like us.” And therefore we forgive them for it.

“It’s a tempting correlation, but far too easy,” says National Coalition Against Violent Athlete’s Kathy Redmond (the woman “allegedly” raped by Christian Peter twice in two days), whose organization advises and counsels victims of violence from athletes at the pro and college levels. Redmond notes that the sport she’s been hearing the most reports on lately is men’s pro volleyball. “That tells me that it’s not necessarily the violence [of the sport]; it’s the fact that you have pro tours where the money’s coming in,” she says.

Philp Merling, 6'5" and 310 lbs., punched his girlfriend,
 who was pregnant at the time. Charges were dropped
when the woman left Merling and returned
home in another state.
Yet there must be something to the fact that society seems to accept all these domestic abuse charges. The leagues and universities have their reasons to ignore the crimes, but society at large and fans in particular—why don’t they do anything about it?

The title of this article comes from the court testimony of Nicole Holder, former girlfriend of Carolina Panther Greg Hardy, whom Hardy was convicted of assaulting and threatening to kill. When asked why she didn’t initially give a statement to police, this is what she said in full.

"I thought high-profile people get away with stuff like this. He’s Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers.” (Emphasis mine)

Holder’s statement reflects the truth. In America, we have undeniably, and dangerously, created a class of society for athletes, where the laws that apply to everyone else don’t apply to them. We have learned well from past events that when an athlete commits a crime, don’t expect justice to be equal.

We praise athletes, coddle them . . . and as a result, create a system to protect them from consequences. A system where truly, a segment of society is above the law. And where a culture of violence is allowed to flourish and where women come second to the “impact on business.” And that’s the reason why Christian Peter didn’t get punished. Or Elijah Dukes. Or Abram Elam. Or Lawrence Clay-Bey. Or Stan Callender. Or Isiah Rider. Or Jameis Winston. Or Oklahoma State linebacker Chris Collins who received probation for the aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl. Or…