Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A DV Double-Standard for Athletes?

Are athletes let off the hook more frequently when it comes to abusing their partners? Sports Illustrated's Jeff Benedict thinks so and outlines how:
Athletes are less prone to fear consequences, especially when it comes to their off-the-field behavior. [Carolina Panthers linebacker Mark] Fields confronted his ex-girlfriend outside a child care facility at 5 o'clock on a Monday afternoon. [Mets closer Francisco] Rodriguez couldn't have picked a more public place to berate his girlfriend and strike her father than at a ballpark, never mind the fact that there were security guards on hand.

Most of us would consider this behavior pretty brazen. Yet athletes who run afoul of the law are used to getting out of jams. Look at [Indiana Pacers rookie Lance] Stephenson. While starring at Abraham Lincoln High in Coney Island, Stephenson and a teammate were arrested in October 2008 for allegedly sexually abusing a 17-year-old girl inside the school. At the time, Stephenson was being recruited by schools like North Carolina, Kansas, Memphis, USC and many others. He was on his way to becoming the all-time leading scorer in New York state history and leading his team to four consecutive New York City championships. He'd become such a big phenomenon that a courtside announcer had nicknamed him "Born Ready" and a reality web series about him was being planned under the same name.

All of that was jeopardized by the felony sexual assault case pending against him. But here's where it pays for an abuser to be an athlete. After Stephenson pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct, the University of Cincinnati offered him a scholarship. He became the Big East's Rookie of the Year in 2010 and was selected drafted by the Indiana Pacers in the second round of June's NBA Draft. It was as if the incident at his high school didn't matter.

But these matters often come back to bite teams that sign players with a rap sheet. Now Pacers GM Larry Bird has to decide what to do. If Stephenson is convicted on felony assault charges for the incident last weekend, he'll face a minimum of seven years in prison. The team just signed him to a contract that reportedly guarantees him $700,000 this year and $800,000 next year. The only thing Bird has said so far is that the organization will send a clear message to the community that cannot be ignored.

The only person who needs a clear message is Stephenson. He may have been born ready to play hoops, but the game is doing him no favors by enabling him to keep skirting responsibility for his actions. Until his case is resolved, the last place he should be is in an NBA uniform.
The full article is well worth a read, if for nothing else than the list of high-profile athletes whose abusive escapes you may or may not have heard about. There is a real reason why researchers and activists like Benedict and Jackson Katz put so much emphasis on intervening with athletes. That's a good approach, but an even better approach might be to couple that intervention with some for GMs on why domestic violence should be taken seriously. Battering athletes aren't going to stop using violence until they see actual negative consequences for doing so.

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