The Collegian
Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Domestic violence

They hit hard and often on the field. They make monster blocks on the glass, slapping the ball and sending it flying in the opposite direction. They check you so hard you see stars. They smack the ball with the bat, propelling it into oblivion. They berate and trash-talk worse than a drunken sailor.

These are not examples of clips you can find on the highlight reel. Some athletes who hit, block, check, smack and berate, do not "leave it all on the field," but in fact, hit, block, check and smack (and sometimes worse) their girlfriends, in-laws and other loved ones.

Think that is scary? Consider this: According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four college-aged women will be sexually assaulted during her college career.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Though the month is coming to a close, this is anything but a closed issue.

And why is this column about athletes and domestic violence? Because they are a lot more closely linked than you might think.

Aug. 12: New York Mets closer Francisco Rodriguez was arrested and charged with assaulting Carlos Pena, the 53-year-old grandfather of his infant twins, according to published reports.

Sept. 6: Wake Forest University's Tony Woods, a center on the basketball team, was arrested on suspicion of assault. He was accused of kicking and pushing his girlfriend and reportedly fracturing her spine.

Oct. 17: Junior Seau, a 12-time NFL Pro Bowl linebacker, was arrested on suspicion of domestic violence after his 25-year-old live-in girlfriend reported that she was assaulted during an argument. Seau was later hospitalized after driving off of a 100-foot cliff. Prosecutors in San Diego won't charge the former standout for the San Diego Chargers after reviewing an investigation by Oceanside police.

But certainly the most egregious, most atrocious act of domestic violence involving athletes within the past five months came from just 70 miles west of Richmond.

Former University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely sits in jail in Charlottesville, Va., awaiting a January trial. He is accused of the murder of his girlfriend, Yeardley Love, who also played lacrosse at Virginia.

Are all of these (and many not listed here) incidents merely coincidences or is there a reason that prominent athletes are in the news for domestic violence?

I do not think athletes are more prone to acts of violence than the next person. Sports no more predispose a person to violence than aggressively loud "death rock" music or junk food.

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Countless studies about this type of violence have been done and none have concrete answers. One of the most comprehensive and informative studies - which included only a sampling from 20 NCAA Division I schools - was conducted in 1995 by Southern Virginia University professor Jeff Benedict. He found that while athletes made up only 3.3 percent of the male population, they accounted for 19 percent of the sexual assault cases.

Scary? You betcha. But determining a direct cause and effect is about as impossible as making the lay-up, foul-shot, three-pointer and half-court shot necessary for the free year of tuition at Spider Mayhem.

That, however, does not mean there is not a problem.

Sexual assaults and domestic violence remain the most underreported crimes in the country, with victims either too afraid or too ashamed to come forward. And when a charge is made against a high-profile, headline-grabbing, name-brand athlete and then is either dismissed or reduced, it is inexcusable. Judges and other powers-that-be should hold all abusers accountable as if they were a typical offender.

Professional sports leagues are beginning to take steps to punish their players for off-the-field incidents. The NFL has a personal conduct policy, with clear punishments in place for players who cross the line off the turf. Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sidelined for four games even though prosecutors did not charge him after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her in Georgia.

Yet there is no such policy at the collegiate level. Each conference has a different code of conduct that addresses only in-game behavior. Off-the-field problems are dealt with at the discretion of each university.

The death of Love shocked the college world. While many of us Spiders were enjoying the debauchery that is Beach Week in North Myrtle Beach, colleges and their athletic departments around the country began to do some serious soul-searching about how to handle an issue like this if it arose on their campus.

Love's death was appalling. I have a lingering, eerily recurring question: Could her death have been prevented if the NCAA had sanctions about off-the-field behavior?

After Huguely's arrest, numerous reports surfaced showing previous violent offenses against not only police officers and his teammates, but most alarming, foreshadowing and above all damning, against Love herself. This is where NCAA officials failed.

Someone should have seen how Huguely's violent track record could turn into something even worse than one count of domestic violence.

Perhaps with the ever-surmounting number of domestic violence cases not only at the professional level, but more importantly, at the college level, we will shed some light on this often darkened, unspoken subject. Justice does not cheer for the offense or the defense: It calls for action for the defenseless.

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