Sure there are stars who saw temporary road bumps in their career for their publicized violence against women like Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, Chris Brown, Tommy Lee, Ike Turner, Bobby Brown and Nicholas Cage. But most of them bounced back and continue to have devoted fans. What message does that send to women who have been abused? That their life is not as important as a great film or song or game or show? What does it say about each of us that we likely have admitted to appreciating the talent of at least one famous abuser?
If you are a friend or family member of a woman living with abuse the best thing you can do is to believe her, offer her non-judgemental support and a listening ear and to help her connect with her local women's shelter or similar community agency. Most of all always put her safety first. Never talk about the abuse in front of her abuser and unless she specifically asks for it, never give her materials about domestic abuse or leave information through voice messages or emails that might be discovered by her abuser.
I find society's reaction to offences committed by African American athletes and the Michael Phelps news disproportionate and eyebrow raising. It would appear that society has casually accepted his apology and his sponsors have not made any indication that they wish to distance themselves from him, as did many of the NFL's sponsors did after public backlash to the incidents above.
Tim Leiweke, president of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, recently made headlines by noting that hiring pro athletes with off-the-charts talent makes no sense if the players in question have terrible character. As far as he is concerned, ignoring character is a good way to ensure you are "doomed" to fail. He is right, and he didn't make his comments to score points.
It seems the Internet, like Orwell's police state, is slowly forcing everyone to stay on his or her best behaviour. In my mind, the Internet won when yet another elevator video surfaced of National Football League player Ray Rice punching his then fiancé, prompting his release by the Baltimore Ravens and an indefinite suspension by the NFL.
The reality is that domestic abuse is far too common in society and that includes Canada. According to a Statistics Canada study 50 per cent of women in Canada have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 16. Think about that for a minute. Look around your office, your classroom, the street your walking on; statistically every second women you see will have suffered violence. And domestic violence is not just limited to people we don't know or people we don't see. Think about your friends and your family, your co-workers, and your classmates -- any of them could be victims of domestic violence.
This isn't Ray Rice's story of fame to public shame. It's the story of Janay Palmer, Anthea Mari and the many faceless women who have suffered through the same tale. Sadly, the NFL could have used better judgment from the moment the first video was released to the public. The original two-game suspension seems like after-school detention or a fleeting time-out in the corner, a small price to pay for what should be an incredibly adult crime.
To these women this isn't just the monster who kicked them down the stairs or told them they were worthless. He's also the man who romanced them and won their heart, the man they sleep next to, the man they make love to, the man who may be the father of their children, the man they build a life with together. To walk away from him is to walk away from the good moments, from the dream of that life. The possibility of what might have been, if only he could change and see the light. Abuse victims didn't "ask for it" or "like it" or "cause it." They are victims, and asking "why didn't they just walk away" -- whether unintentional or not -- blames those victims.
What's lost in all this is that a woman was beaten unconscious and was ignored because we apparently love sports more than we have compassion for others. No player, no matter how famous or rich, should be excluded from full punishment, counseling, and reconciliation. No woman, no matter who her abuser is, should be shamed into silence, isolation, or fear. If you're a sports fan or not, please join with me in demanding better from those who flood our TVs and ask us to love them. The people who make millions of dollars for our entertainment aren't immune to our criticism and should be held to the highest of standards. The sports world is an amazing place with amazing people but we can and must do better than this.