Tough talk: Football still tolerates domestic abuse

Trigger warning from the writer: This story contains graphic descriptions of domestic assault.

Ray McDonald, Kevin Williams, Brandon Marshall, Santonio Holmes, Ray Rice, Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy.

The list of NFL players with domestic violence arrests is grotesquely long. Although Rice will likely never play pro football again, there is no actual rule preventing him from playing. Hardy’s situation is similar, although he was also recently arrested on drug charges. Bryant made his return to the gridiron from injury on Sunday and has no fear of not playing for legal reasons.

Football doesn’t care about women, and it doesn’t care that its status as the king of sports is allowing its employees to get away with felonies.

Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges two years ago after knocking his then-fiancé unconscious before dragging her body out of an elevator. This incident was caught on video and there is no argument about the reality of events. He was suspended “indefinitely” before winning an appeal and being reinstated by the NFL.

Hardy had a similarly horrifying story surface last year when his then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, accused him of assaulting her. The details of the assault are truly haunting.

Holder said that Hardy had pulled her off of a bed and flung her into a bathtub before tossing her onto a futon covered in assault rifles. Read that sentence again.

She said that Hardy dragged her from room-to-room by her hair and later wrapped his hands around her neck, threatening to choke her. There are pictures of Holder’s injuries on the internet that I do not recommend you look up. According to Holder, Hardy told her directly that he had people that could kill her for him. He was then convicted by a judge in North Carolina, which ultimately led to a four game suspension. Four. Four games.

Hardy would go on to make 13.1 million dollars that season, a perfect representation of how football players, and high-profile athletes in general, are treated.

It’s not hard to see that these people have committed crimes. But there is a large portion of the sports community that vehemently defends Rice, Hardy and their peers and verbally assaults the victims online.

In my last column, I discussed the scary nature of violence in football. As bad as the health concerns are, they certainly aren’t the only negative impact that this culture has on society.

I can verify this with actual data, but I would be shocked to learn that another major North American sport has higher rates of domestic violence than the NFL. There’s a pattern among pro football players that simply can’t be ignored.

These men have been playing football for 20, 25, sometimes 30 years. It’s impossible to do something so often for so long and not develop instinctual habits. And, unfortunately, in football those habits are almost universally violent.

It’s disheartening to read these stories over and over every year. It’s hard to hear the trembling voice of a victim on the phone with police recounting that traumatic experiences they’ve just had.

I’m scared. The NFL, along with high-profile college teams and the NCAA, has had opportunity after opportunity to take a stand and make an example out of its criminal employees. To say loud and clear that violence, domestic or otherwise, is an abominable sin that cannot be tolerated to any extent. But here we sit, with Rice trying to return to the gridiron and Hardy pursuing a career in mixed martial arts. Neither face any legitimate criminal punishment, and both were given slap-on-the-wrist consequences by the league.

I ask now, that in the future, NFL teams demonstrate that they stand in solidarity with victims of violence. Violent criminals should not be allowed to make millions of dollars because they are good at running into people. Eliminating a culture of violence off the field should be more important than an improved run game.

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