Domestic Violence: Commonplace in Sport?

The National Football League (NFL) in the US has recently been rocked with allegations of two high profile players involved in domestic violence charges. These two cases have tarnished the image of the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, all of a sudden, has a lot to answer to. However, this is not solely a problem in the NFL, in fact, this case has helped dig up a disturbing culture that seems to be more prevalent in sport than we know.


Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers has been found guilty in July this year of domestic violence by a judge for assaulting a former girlfriend and threatening to kill her. Hardy has appealed the decision with a trial set to begin in November and as a result of this, he has been able to continue to play games for the Panthers.


More recently, Ray Rice, star running back of the Baltimore Ravens, has been fired and suspended indefinitely due to video surveillance appearing depicting the player knocking out his wife in an Atlantic City casino elevator. However, before the full video of the incident (occurring in February) was released, Roger Goodell handed out a measly suspension of two games to Rice. He has now admitted that it was too soft a ban and has instilled a new domestic violence policy in the league resulting in six game bans for first offenders and life bans for repeated offenders.


This case does highlight the somewhat lenient attitude of sport towards matters of domestic violence in the past. In 2006, in Major League Baseball (MLB), Philadelphia Phillies pitcher was charged with assaulting his wife on the streets of Boston. Witnesses stated that he struck her in the face and pulled her hair. However, less than two days later, he was playing on the field with the Phillies’ general manager explaining the decision with the following sentence, “he’s our best pitcher.”


Multiple scenarios similar to this have now been uncovered and looked at seriously since the video of Ray Rice surfaced on the Internet. Is it too little too late? Sport teams have historically failed to sufficiently punish athletes involved in domestic abuse cases and this doesn’t play well for anyone. Consider young fans that idolize these sport stars. They see that these athletes can escape from conducting these acts of violence unscathed. They won’t see a player that is under investigation for assault, they see instead their favourite athlete continuing to be a hero on the field despite having committed a crime.


I finish with a quote from Moya Dodd, a former soccer player for Australia who is now an executive committee member at FIFA.


“It’s encouraging to see administrators acknowledge the profound influence that sport has on what’s considered socially acceptable, and follow up words with actions,” she said. “Sport can bring out the best and the worst. It’s our choice – be a haven where ugliness can fester, or make it a leader in showing the rest of society how we can limit harm and help our best selves flourish.


“Sport is not a magic wand, but it is perhaps the most powerful tool we have for resetting norms among the playing population and their fan base.”


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