Men in sports speak out against Interpersonal Violence (IPV)

5 Nov, 2014

Amidst all the news coverage of the Rice family and their struggles there were voices of men taking an unequivocal stance against IPV, asking us to take a look at the roots of violence, recognizing the societal nature of the problem, and saying this is not ok and it has got to stop.

These voices are different than:

  • #notallmen (we never said ALL men), or
  • men saying women are abusive too (we never said it was only one gender who abuses, please don’t derail our conversation), or
  • men saying you are exaggerating or overstating (please don’t deny our lived experiences), or
  • men saying we should do better because the victims are your mothers, sisters, daughters (we all should do better because no one should be hurt whether or not they have status via a relationship to a man).

For example, we have James Brown – TV anchor for CBS Sports, spoke on camera at the end of a pre-game broadcast to say:

…this problem is bigger than football. There has been, appropriately so, intense and widespread outrage following the release of the video showing what happened inside the elevator at the casino. But wouldn’t it be productive if this collective outrage, as my colleagues have said, could be channeled to truly hear and address the long-suffering cries for help by so many women? And as they said, do something about it? Like an on-going comprehensive education of men about what healthy, respectful manhood is all about.

And it starts with how we view women. Our language is important. For instance, when a guy says, ‘you throw the ball like a girl’ or ‘you’re a little sissy,’ it reflects an attitude that devalues women and attitudes will eventually manifest in some fashion. …

So this is yet another call to men to stand up and takes responsibility for our thoughts, words and deeds. As Deion Sanders says, “To give help or get help”. Our silence is deafening and deadly.

If we changed this statement to be more gender neutral so as not to erase the experiences of people not fitting the strict gender binary and to acknowledge that all genders are both perpetrators and victims of IPV, it would be even more powerful.

Yes. The problem is bigger than football. Yes. Let’s stop wringing our hands at the violence of football players, as if they alone are the perpetrators (or condoners) of such behavior. Yes. Let’s actually listen to the people who tell their stories and believe them and address their needs. Yes. Let’s ensure there is on-going education to change both beliefs and behaviors about gender roles and violence. Yes. Let’s acknowledge that holding beliefs that some humans are less human or less valuable than others is seriously problematic because those beliefs manifest in behaviors that are harmful.

Melissa McEwan writes, “Privilege is dangerous. Supremacist thinking is dangerous. Dehumanization is dangerous. Failing to view another human as your equal, failing to acknowledge and respect their humanity, is dangerous.”

Terry Crews, former NFL player and popular actor, in an interview with Entertainment Tonight, describes his experiences as a child in a home with violence, and his take on the belief systems that foster IPV:

Men we are responsible, it starts with us. … There is something wrong and its not getting better, its getting worse. … And all the pink gloves and all the little pink trinkets and accessories are not going to not fix the problem that this domestic violence has been having on the NFL and the male culture in general. …We are still treating women as less than.

“The NFL culture, the sports culture, has decided that they are more valuable than women,” Crews believes. “I’ve heard people laugh about keeping their pimp hand strong and keeping her in control and so that she knows her place. But when you think about how evil that is for one man to think that he’s actually more valuable than a woman, because as a human being your worth is immeasurable.”

“Because of my stance on domestic violence and standing [up] for women I have tons of men coming at me like ‘You are a punk, you are a punk, look at you, get your skirt and go pop your pecks somewhere’…This is the mentality I’m talking about, the challenge, the male pride. … Pride is a thing that kills you. … Male pride is so tough that they feel that any time a woman back talks it’s they’d rather die than stand for that, than actually have a women tell them what’s up and then they would say, ‘Ok you know what, I got to hit her. I got to lash out.’”

As a hockey fan and the aunt of a girl hockey player, I worry about the culture she is in and will continue to be playing in, as just one of a few girls on her team. For now, she knows her teammates “have her back” when there are rare occasions of being belittled as a girl. They stand up for her and stand up against rude remarks or put-downs. The coaches too have her back – the NHL has decided to take a strong stand with a strict ban on homophobic, racist and sexist language on the ice or in the locker rooms and this practice trickles down to the Youth Hockey level. Beliefs and behaviors can be silently condoned or immediately discouraged or penalized, setting a tone that lasts throughout the players’ lives. On her team, it’s not ok and everyone knows it, including the parents.

This policy shows up in the contrasting treatment NHL players receive when they are accused of physical abuse. For example, Ms. Magazine reports:

“Unlike the National Football League (NFL), which had to wait for not one but two videos of player Ray Rice physically abusing his fiancée before it took strict action against him, the NHL acted immediately on Monday after a Sunday night incident in which Los Angeles Kings hockey player Slava Voynov was arrested on suspicion of having injured a woman who then needed emergency room attention. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman suspended Voynov with pay, and Kings coach Darryl Sutter seconded the decision:

Absolutely, it’s very appropriate. Obviously, we have strong feelings about [domestic violence]. … Obviously the league has made a strong stand on it.’

It’d be great if everyone thought “obviously.”

A day later ESPN reports: “These developments are of great concern to our organization,” the Kings said in a statement. “We support the NHL’s decision to suspend Slava Voynov indefinitely during this process, and we will continue to take appropriate action as the legal proceedings and the investigation by the NHL take their course.”

While these men deserve all the kudos for their willingness to be out front on this issue, despite the personal blowback they may receive; let’s not forget the women who have been working for years and decades with no spotlight, to end domestic violence.

The documentary Private Violence addresses the underlying issues and context that allows domestic violence to be so prevalent in the U.S.: “willful ignorance that often results in victim-blaming, unrealistic expectations of women, and a criminal justice system markedly unresponsive to victims and survivors.”

Next week, we look at facts, myths and context for IPV to wrap our series. There are amazing resources and information available to further our understanding.

Please join us each week and invite others to do so as well.




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