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Athletes Are Sidelined For Politics, But Not For Violence Against Women

Men who assault women get off lightly. Men who stand up for social justice are punished.

11/16/2017 13:12 EST | Updated 11/16/2017 13:17 EST
Steve Marcus / Reuters
Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. of the U.S. poses on the scale during his official weigh-in at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nev. on Aug. 25, 2017.

In the world of professional sports, violence against women has long been a topic of discussion, curtailed until history repeats itself. However, very little has been done to challenge the ways in which athletes are held accountable or carry the conversation forward towards meaningful change.

As we witness athletes taking a stand, and Hollywood's elite fall apart — little is done when we see these two worlds collide. Why are athletes being sidelined for their politics, but not for violence against women?

In 2014, data revealed that the relative arrest rate for domestic violence of NFL players was 55.4 per cent, over four times worse than the league's arrest rate for all offences. The majority of these athletes faced no more than a game suspension. And yet, Colin Kaepernick is yet to sign with a team halfway through the 2017 NFL season — many believe as a repercussion for taking a stance against inequality.

These figures can become tools for change — except for when it comes to gender equity. While I commend the symbolic power of male athletes kneeling for social justice — the capacity for political change that we reserve for professional athletes — their voices seem to be greater than those of women who've been victimized and further silenced as a result of inaction.

Men of stature within professional sports are held to distinct standards, and we've yet to question why.

Men who assault women get off lightly. Men who stand up for social justice are punished.

After facing rape charges in 2003, Kobe Bryant finished his Hall of Fame career with 60 points last year. But then there's his apology, made after the case was dismissed.

"Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did."

As breathtaking as an apology may seem for some, in reality it further stretches the liminal space for perpetrators to circumvent their behaviour — leaving the validity of women's statements constantly under scrutiny, further blurring the lines of what we define as consent and bringing us back to question — could there be a production of gender that wasn't based on exploitation?

Earlier this year, world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. won a $600-million-dollar fight, but since 2002 has been accused of violence against women with alarming frequency — pleading guilty to two incidents, convicted in one, only to have the charges dismissed four years later and a 90-day prison sentence following a domestic violence charge.

Men of stature within professional sports are held to distinct standards, and we've yet to question why.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and free safety Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem before an NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. on Oct 6, 2016.

It was just three years ago when Ray Rice was suspended from the Baltimore Ravens for a domestic assault case, a suspension that was only made indefinite following the elevator footage emerged showing him punching his then-fiancée unconscious.

Shortly after, the NFL's "new" domestic violence policy was laid out, stating that the league would suspend first-time offenders for six games and a second offense would result in a lifetime ban from the NFL. And yet, even a player who receives a lifetime ban can petition for reinstatement after just one year.

A report from Harvard Law School found that from 2002 to 2014, of 64 reported incidents across the MLB, NFL and NBA, only seven players were punished by their league, and two by their team.

But in the cases of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, we witness a power-stripping standard that has yet to be applied to the realm of professional sports.

For many, a slap on the wrist will suffice, and we still remain reluctant to proffer the idea that justice should transcend elitism, regardless of who is being accused or whose truth is being told.

This is no longer just an issue of verifying the truth — but questioning the standard in which we hold perpetrators accountable and analyzing the other facets central to our agency that intersect with gender inequality.

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