Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

About those foobaw players

I haven't done primary research on intimate partner violence, but as a sociologist I have studied a bit about it and taught the subject. It is possible for couples to get into the occasional fight, push or hit each other, throw things -- surveys find that the percentage of relationships in which that happens are pretty high, and the gender direction is actually pretty symmetrical. That said, since men tend to be bigger and stronger than women in most cases they have an extra responsibility to forebear.

But abusive relationships are something different. These are characterized by a pattern of coercive control. The abuser is obsessively jealous and possessive. He -- and in these situations it is indeed usually he -- uses all sorts of tactics to maintain control, not just physical violence but humiliation, economic coercion, spying, selective withholding of affection, lying, threatening, you name it. Women often end up staying in these relationships out of fear -- if they leave, he might kill her. He may well have made credible threats to do so. She may have no economic resources and fear for her children's welfare. You get the idea. (This can happen in homosexual relationships as well, by the way.)

So what about Ray Rice? We don't have any evidence, that I know of, that the incident in the elevator was anything but isolated. However, the video is deeply disturbing because he is so callous. He shows no concern for her welfare, drags her out of the elevator like a sack of potatoes, and seems not in the least upset that he has just struck his fiancee in the face and knocked her unconscious. That is very odd, to say the least. And given that he spends hours in the weight room and his muscles are nearly bursting out of his suit, see the last sentence of paragraph one.

Now, if the average accountant or material handler is accused of domestic violence, he ordinarily won't lose his job unless he winds up in jail. In fact, his boss probably will never even learn about it. With public officials it's different obviously. A Massachusetts state legislator was recently convicted of domestic violence, refused to resign, and the House expelled him. So what about athletes?

It seems to go without saying for most commenters that professional athletes, and for that matter prominent college athletes, must be held to a high standard of conduct away from their jobs.  The reality is that athletes throughout their youth, including college, are entitled and can get away with a lot of bad behavior. The fans seem to love their bad boys regardless. At least this has historically been true, but now the zeitgeist is changing, and more and more people are reacting against the tradition. There is a strong feminist strain in this reaction but there are plenty of men who feel the same way not only because they are feminists, but also because they don't like the old definition of proper manhood.

I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this. Obviously athletes should be held to the same standards as everybody else, and be as accountable. But should they be more accountable? Public officials have to make and enforce the law. Eliot Spitzer properly resigned because as Attorney General he had prosecuted prostitution rings and as Governor he was responsible for enforcing laws that he violated. We can't have that, as far as I'm concerned. But are athletes really role models? Have they ever been? Some are, in some ways. Jackie Robinson, for example. But generally speaking, they're just entertainers, and we certainly don't disqualify actors or musicians for bad behavior. Rice probably should have been prosecuted, given the egregiousness of the assault, but should he never play football again? I think that may be a category error. He's just a guy who plays a violent game.


robin andrea said...

I am so glad to read this. I have been thinking the same thing about Ray Rice and why he was fired. It really didn't make sense to me. I would prefer seeing him prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but that's it. There is a similar trend happening on college campuses with rape and sexual assault. The perpetrators are not prosecuted, but are dealt with by campus officials. That makes no sense to me either. But in both cases, the institution maintains control and the victim is hardly an afterthought

mojrim said...

I have been having the same thoughts about Rice vs NFL and wondering why americans think that professional athletes are somehow special. On the one hand we have hotel security rape destroying evidence to protect a player and on the other we get a lynch mob.

Prosecution, however, is not the answer to almost anything. Our prison system accomplishes only one thing: warehousing people away from public sight. It does not reform or educate, and is suitable only for those that pose an uncontrollable threat to public safety.

While Rice's action was certainly awful, the question to ask is: how do we prevent him from doing it again? The answer is not prison, but counseling and supervision, which is what he's getting in the diversion program he was put into. Sending him to prison merely punishes his wife even more than taking away his employment.

This is to say nothing of the "black men as gladiators" paradigm we live with or how little america needs another unemployed black man with a felony record.

Cervantes said...

I agree that prison doesn't generally do people any good. However, counseling programs for domestic abusers don't have a very high success rate either. It seems to be a deeply ingrained pattern of behavior.

Anonymous said...

I sort of agree but the NFL has behavior codes that the players must abide by. They recently suspended Daryl Washington for a year for trace amounts of marijuana in his blood stream. The hypocrisy of harsh punishments for some offences and protection of key players and lax punishments for much worse offences is what is so disturbing.

I think you have to make the case that it is not their responsibility to discipline players for any off field behavior.

mojrim said...

Not very well, Cervantes, but they seem more efficacious and cheaper than prison by a fair amount. Statistics like those call the question: Upon whom do such programs work?

What we refer to under the rubric of "domestic abuse" is actually a range of behaviors that lead to a violent altercation and, sometimes, police involvement. The model we assume covers all is but one of these - the serially assaulting menace that cuts a woman off from her friends and controls her through physical and psychological violence.

But there are other paths to a domestic assault, ranging from temporary, high stress circumstances to medication reactions to anger management issues. Etiology matters in cognitive therapy as much, if not more than, in the somatic.