When I was a kid my mother taught me karate. The fluid movements of the sport embodied self-control, awareness, and controlled power. Karate also showed me so much about sport in general: it wasn’t just a question of one team or individual winning and one losing, but a real opportunity to learn lifelong skills through sportsmanship, friendship, healthy living, and healthy competitiveness.
Some sports have a more aggressive element to them than others, football or boxing for example, but all follow strict rules of play, and punishments are doled out when the rules are not adhered to during a game. But if you follow the news you can probably name at least two athletes offhand who have come under scrutiny for violent behavior off the pitch. It may even appear as if there is a correlation between aggressive sports and domestic violence and abuse.
According to statistics, while the percentage of reported domestic violence cases between professional athlete and partner are higher, the actual number of cases are no higher than those that take place between non athletes. But the media tends to focus on those committed by elite athletes.
This opens a window into a gray area where violence on the pitch seems to bleed into violence at home. However, this media portrayal does not always go hand in hand with a positive solution to the problem.
Why does it seem that certain sports seem to normalize unhealthy behaviors? Survivors often find themselves harshly judged and blamed, while the athlete appears to get off with a mere slap on the wrist. This is not always the case of course, although the conviction rate of athletes as opposed to non-athletes is much lower according to certain studies. There has to be a way to use the sports platform to make real change when it comes dealing with domestic violence crimes. And we are all responsible for how this can play out: the athlete, the sports organization, and those of us who support the sport and turn a blind eye when it comes to game results over crime and abuse.
So let’s work together to see how we can change this!
Without removing the blame from the perpetrator how can we all collectively hold people accountable and bring about real change?
No more victim blaming
Perpetrators are often heavily scrutinized by the media, but so are the survivors, possibly even more so. Because elite athletes are highly regarded by the public there seems to be a natural push towards giving them a free pass by trying to find some kind of blame in the victim. Unfortunately this culture is too widespread and if we, the general public, can stop analyzing the victim’s life, and instead work on making sure that the athlete is punished correctly for their crime, we can start holding them accountable for what they have done.
Giving someone a free pass for their offenses does not set a good example, and can easily lead to re-offense. In general we need to separate athletic ability from the crime committed and refrain from dragging victims through the mud, which also makes it harder for other victims to come forward.
Consistent and appropriate punishment
Instead of just benching players for random amounts of time or doling out a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime (too harsh or not harsh enough), it would be of greater benefit to everyone involved if we can set a precedent of rehabilitation across the board. It is absolutely possible to unlearn unhealthy behaviors, so why not start a trend? Instead of rug sweeping violence in order to win games or make the playoffs, why not set up sports organization-wide rulings for any type of domestic violence and abuse? Perpetrators should also publicly follow mandatory domestic violence awareness and rehabilitation courses before they allowed back in the game.
What if we could nip the crime in the bud before it is even committed? Instead of focusing only on sports, numbers, and wins, why not start with automatic abuse and assault awareness courses from high school and college onwards? Escalation courses such as the ones provided by the One Love Foundation can be a huge game changer when it comes to raising awareness and seeking help and support. There is no real proof of whether a violent sport automatically turns someone into a violent person, or if this violence comes from upbringing or somewhere else, way before sport ever came into the picture. So instead of focusing blame on the sport itself, instigating preventative work can help avoid violence actually becoming an issue.
Also, sudden fame and fortune can often lead to the normalization of certain behaviors such as entitlement and a certain desensitization towards violent responses. Allowing young students to understand this and learn to manage certain behaviors before they make an appearance can make a huge difference.
It is probably too farfetched an idea to demand we boycott media coverage of these domestic violence cases, but as a general rule we can work towards a less sensationalized and less biased approach. We can treat the athletes as we would any other perpetrator, rather than making them into supervillain or even superhero. Media coverage could also include real footage of athletes completing awareness training, and candid interviews with them, instead of just highlighting athletic prowess and violent actions. Understanding the human being behind the uniform could also help reduce idolization of certain personalities despite the violence they may commit towards others. The sensationalization of these cases by the media often tends to highlight them more than in any other industry, where there are most likely as many cases of domestic violence.
Work together to make real change!
There could be a greater effort to bring sports organizations, viewers, domestic violence and sexual assault awareness groups, and the media together at regular meetings where ideas and progress can be made. It would also be awesome to see more athletes participate in awareness campaigns that are geared towards students and young adults: using their platform to raise awareness rather than promoting less healthy behaviors.
While it is important that we hold perpetrators of domestic violence and abuse accountable for their actions, whether they are famous or not, there also needs to be a huge push in working together to reduce the number of cases we see reported on a regular basis. Sports organizations and domestic violence awareness groups can put their heads together to create nationwide anti-violence campaigns. Schools can work on creating mandatory escalation and awareness courses. And, finally, spectators can refuse to rug sweep violence in the name of sports victories. We can all work together to empower existing and future athletes to seek healthier relationships on and off the pitch!