Last week we saw the response to domestic violence play out in the NFL, again. Player, Rueben Foster, was arrested on domestic violence charges, released from the San Francisco 49ers and within two days picked up by the Washington Redskins. Our community was outraged. This action was another tone deaf response to domestic violence within the NFL.
As anti-violence advocates called for accountability the responses were statements of ridiculousness. Statements that “he likely won’t play this year”, “others have done worse, so this is small potatoes”, “we’ll wait and see what happens with the charges”. Ridiculous because they abdicate the responsibility to use this moment. Use it to be part of a Community of Support for victims; use it to say, “we don’t accept domestic violence”. Instead, these statements and the initial move to pick up Rueben Foster after a domestic violence charge say, not our problem until someone else makes it a big deal.
If we know, and we do know, that many victims of domestic violence do not participate, for multiple reasons, in prosecuting the offender, then we shouldn’t wait on them to be the storm. Victims are tied to the offender, out of love, out of financial need, out of isolation and because of many things that the abuse has created for them. They have been controlled and their power has been taken from them; it is for others to take the lead.
If we know, and we do know, that courts dismiss the majority of domestic violence cases, then we shouldn’t wait on it to be the storm. Courts are saddled with a burden of proof that makes it difficult to prosecute domestic violence. And, our laws against domestic violence are young enough that we haven’t changed the underlying acceptance of it to increase the prosecution and sentencing.
If we know, and we do know, that the average person looks for a way to keep domestic violence silent and a “private family problem”, then we shouldn’t wait on them to be the storm.
Is the NFL responsible to be better responsive than our criminal justice systems or the average person? YES! For multiple reasons, but most importantly because they made a commitment to be just that. They have gone through other moments of domestic violence, handled them poorly and then made a commitment that they would do better. They partnered with anti-violence organizations for education, they promoted anti-violence prevention, they agreed their community would be supportive of victims and they would hold their players, coaches and staff to the anti-violence standard. They should expect our outrage at this incident. But more, they should have acted better.