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Athletes or Felons?: Domestic Violence in Professional Sports

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Domestic violence is a crime which shows no bias as to where one may find it going on. This includes the heinous act appearing in the professional and collegiate sports worlds.

It has just been four years since the public watched that infamous elevator recording of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice leaving his current wife unconscious after savagely striking her, and four years since reports came out against former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson for beating his son with tree branches.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice left his wife unconscious after savagely striking her

Source: Keith Allison

Peterson would subsequently be suspended one season for his actions. Rice was placed on an indefinite suspension at the time, and has not been signed by a team since.

Those are only two cases out of many that have riddled the sports world. Backlash regarding how these higher-level leagues discipline their athletes for breaking domestic violence policies has been around for years.

Yet, with violence rippling through a majority of professional sporting leagues and many college programs, change has been quite slow.

On Sunday, pitcher Roberto Osuna was activated by his team, the Houston Astros, following a 75-game suspension he served for a domestic abuse incident. Osuna was signed by the Astros while still serving his suspension.

In May, he was arrested for assaulting a woman, breaking the league’s domestic violence policy. At the time of the incident, Major League Baseball (MLB) commissioner Rob Manfred had Osuna placed on administrative leave immediately.

Osuna became the league’s seventh player in three years to be suspended for such actions. However, in the age of the #MeToo movement, there are many calling for athletics administrators to hold their players more accountable for their illegal actions.

There is no significant gender bias as to which athletes are committing or being accused of these acts. Hope Solo, the former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team goalkeeper was suspended six months by U.S. Soccer after she was arrested for allegedly assaulting her nephew and half-sister in 2014.

Hope Solo, the former U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team goalkeeper was suspended six months by U.S. Soccer after she was arrested for domestic violence after allegedly assaulting her nephew and half-sister in 2014.

Source: Ampatent

There have also been several cases where repercussions for these crimes were not just being imposed on the direct perpetrator. It was just two week ago when Ohio State University football head coach Urban Meyer was placed on paid administrative leave for supposedly having prior knowledge to the fact that his ex-assistant coach, Zach Smith, had encounters regarding domestic violence towards his now ex-wife.

“Any member of a team, especially coaches, should be held responsible if they know about such an incident,” says Andrew McElroy, a linebacker at Division I Marist College. McElroy went on to talk about how these attempted “cover ups” are just as wrong as the assault.

“Every member of a team plays an important leadership role in their own respected ways, and not coming forward with such information shows a lack in character and tolerance for assault,” McElroy said.

Even so, the question remains. Are the current disciplinary policies currently in place in the sports world enough?

“I do not think there should be second chances. These are professionals who should know better and act better.

What these athletes are doing also reflects poorly on organized sports and players as a whole,” McElroy continued.

In the MLB, the domestic violence policy found in a player’s collective bargaining agreement states that once the policy has been broken, the player will be suspended by the league  which cannot be challenged by the union. Once the punishment is completed, it is left up to the team to decide on further reprimanding based on the tolerance level.

In the NFL, a league that has had its own fair share of handling ugly cases such as these as of late, a player is to be suspended for six for his incident that breaks the domestic violence policy, and will then receive a lifetime ban if a second offense is to occur. Other major sports leagues follow suit closely with their policies.

McElroy also weighed in on the positives and negatives of these leagues’ policies.

“I feel like the NFL’s new policy is good because there is set punishments, but I feel like there shouldn’t be an appeals process,” he said. McElroy said he feels like the investigations conducted should be thorough enough to make the final verdict.

“The MLB should have more specific punishments that are lined up so players know what the punishments are for their actions and so that punishments do not vary,” McElroy said.

Unfortunately, investigating these details of these assaults has not been as clean, cut, and dry. While a victim is never to blame, there have been a number of cases against athletes where it was discovered that the accuser made false claims. At times, these accusers lied because they were seeking some form of revenge on the person.

Back in May, an investigation was led involving University of Alabama standout and now-49ers linebacker Reuben Foster following accusations by his ex-girlfriend of Foster beating her and preventing the report of saic attack. All charges were dropped by the police after the woman was found out to be fabricating the story and recanted.

It was found out that the woman was angry with the football player for breaking up with her. She said, “I was pissed, and I wanted revenge.”

On this, McElroy expressed, “Cases that turn out to be false are extremely messy. Athletes’ and coaches’ careers can be ruined because of false accusations.

McElroy gave some ideas for possible solutions. Teams and players can protect themselves from such cases by offering lessons on how to protect themselves from those situations. Athletes can also try to stay away from risky situations and lookout for each other, while also making sure that their teammate isn’t in the wrong.”

Calls for harsher punishments for coaches, staff members and their players involved in domestic assault charges remain high.

It is also important to note that this is for the purpose of deterring such abhorrent actions from persisting, not for these schools and professional leagues to hand out punishment just for the sake of stopping a fallout with the public.

By: Mohamad Hashash

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