Parenting and Football Part V: Domestic Violence

I. Spouse/Partner Abuse: “The Cleveland Curse”

I am using this subtitle because the most publicized cases seems to come from the Cleveland Browns and their successors, the Baltimore Ravens.  The Browns won three NFL championships in the early 1950’s and totally embarrassed my beloved Baltimore Colts in the 1964 championship game 27-0.  Unfortunately for Browns fans it was to be their last championship but they could console themselves with the fact that they had the player who was the consensus MVP of his era, Jim Brown.  Brown’s success on the playing field, however did not carry over to his relationships in that he had three different domestic violence charges against him in the decades that followed.  In all three cases the women later withdrew the charges.  In the third case, Brown was convicted of vandalizing his wife’s car in 1999 and served four months in jail for refusing to carry out his counseling and community service.  The other Browns player is the quarterback Johnny Manziel, who has had a couple of suspected incidents with the police in Dallas seemingly ready to press charges after the lat.  Just this week he was dropped by the Browns due to the alleged assaults and what seems to be serious substance abuse and mental health issues with Manziel, who’s had little success as a pro after winning the Heisman trophy with Texas A & M.

Just as Jim Brown had his first incident shortly after winning the NFL championship, so too with the Ravens, who moved from Cleveland to Baltimore in 1996.  The Ravens won the Superbowl in 2001 and again in 2013.  Shortly after the 2013 title game, two of the Ravens’ role players received one and two-game suspensions (without pay) for domestic violence.  The first really prominent domestic violence incident for any US athlete occurred in early 2014.  Ray Rice, the Ravens’ star running back, was celebrating in an Atlantic City hotel with his fiancee, when an argument erupted and Rice struck her severely in the face.  In May, Rice was allowed to enter a counseling and diversion program, a lenient sentence that is given to only one percent of those convicted of domestic violence in New Jersey.  In July Rice was given a two game suspension by the NFL.  Shortly after that the TV network TMZ released a videotape of Rice’s assault in a now-famous elevator and he was immediately released by the Ravens.  Rice is still not back in the NFL, most likely because he is over 30, long in the tooth for an NFL running back.

II. Child Abuse: The Adrian Peterson case

Peterson in some ways is the reincarnation of Jim Brown in that he has been the NFL’s leading running back in the past five years.  As many experts in the field confirm, the perpetrators behavior can usually be traced to his/her own childhood.  In Peterson’s case he was one of 10 children and had a harsh, almost Dickensian childhood.  At age seven he saw his beloved nine year brother die in his arms after being knocked off his bicycle by a drunk driver.  At age 13, Peterson’s father was sent to prison for laundering drug money.  Peterson’s dad had been a noted college basketball player and was very active in developing his son’s athletic talent.   They talked nightly by phone and Adrian visited him regularly but it certainly was a lonely high school experience for him.  At age 18, Peterson was considered one of the top recruits in the nation but only the Oklahoma University coach was able to be admitted to the prison and talk with dad before the prison changed its policy to ward off the hordes of college coaches hungry to land a national-class running back.  After an all-American stint at Oklahoma, Peterson was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings.  Adrian, like his dad, sired several children (seven) but in his case it was with various women.  One of the kids died at the hand of a stepdad, to add to Adrian’s baleful biography.  The case against Peterson began in May, 2014.  He had swatted one of his sons (who lives mostly with his mother) with a thin branch that Peterson, like many from small-town Texas, calls a switch. The boy was left with bruises, welts and cuts on his legs, back, arms, buttocks and scrotum.

On September 17, the NFL, no doubt reacting to the storm of derision it received after dithering over the Ray Rice case, suspended Peterson(who’d played only one game) for the remainder of the 2014 season.  In November Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor reckless assault charge; he was ordered to undergo counseling, pay a $4,000 fine and perform 80 hours of community service.  The greatest penalty of course was loss of almost a full year’s salary, about $15 million in Peterson’s case. During his suspension Peterson married the mother of one of his sons and soon to be two.  They visited his hometown, Palestine, Texas and the small town of 13, 000 in East Texas turn out for a parade in his honor and hundreds stood in line for over an hour to shake his hand and give him support: a truly Texas vs. the world occasion.   Peterson says that through counseling he was able to learn other methods of discipline.  He was also able to gather strength from his Christian faith, reunite with many friends and family members(including his father,who was finally released from prison) and be reinstated by the NFL for the 2015 season and resume his dazzling career.

III. Historical, Ethnic and Gender Issues

I can remember hearing years ago that “rule of thumb” referred to the diameter of a stick that was the permissible size for a man to use on his spouse or child.  After recent research it seems that was an apocryphal word origin: it was never the law itself but it was referred to in both English and early American courts.  Another old saw relevant to DV is “spare the rod and spoil the child”.  I came from an Irish Catholic family who definitely followed that adage, although not to an extreme degree.  Those extreme measures fell to the nuns in my parochial school.    I vividly recall an 8th grade experience in which a very elderly nun snuck up behind me as I was whispering to a classmate(a mortal sin there!) and implanted a ball point pen in my cranium.  Today, that would surely be cause for the nun’s dismissal but it was de rigeur in the 1960’s!  This also happened to be in Oklahoma, where corporal punishment hung on longer than anywhere else in the US.  Peterson’s behavior probably never would have happened had he grown up in the Northeast or Northwest.

Woman As Aggressor: The Unspoken Truth Of Domestic Violence

As for gender issues, see the observations of an MD in the above link.  He cites a UK study in which 40% of the domestic violence there is perpetrated by females.  American professional football players, having reached Brobdignagian proportions in the last generation, have little fear for their physical safety in any reciprocal encounters (most DV is reciprocal and of those, the doctor finds that most are initiated by women), but that’s not true for most males, particularly kids.




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