Punch Like a Man

Big-Time Sports’ Domestic Violence Problem

It's this same warped sense of masculinity-as-violence that pervades the culture of men's sports—especially in what Don Sabo, a professor at D'Youville College in Buffalo and author of several books on sports and violence, calls the "combat sport subculture" of games like football. In this world where athleticism, manliness, and violence are all melded into one seamless unit, the common schoolyard taunt of "you throw like a girl" is trumped only by what Sabo refers to as coaches' "Doomsday Weapon": "You play like a fag."

The same week that Bud Selig was handing down his (since-reduced) punishment of Rocker, Rockies hurler Astacio copped a plea in his battering case. Asked if the team planned to address the matter of one of their players being convicted of a violent crime, a Rockies spokesperson would only repeat that "the Rockies organization recognizes that domestic discord is a serious problem in our country today." Bud Selig's office did not return phone calls inquiring into possible punishment for Astacio.

While NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said during the Super Bowl that the NFL has "a very comprehensive, very active set of programs" in place, he apparently was referring to the league's programs against drug and alcohol abuse—a league spokesperson was unable to give any details on a specific antiviolence program. The baseball commissioner's office, meanwhile, when asked about its policy on domestic violence, deferred to the players' union, whose spokesperson would say only that there is an employee assistance program in place for players, adding quickly, "Obviously, the nature of these programs is confidential."

Most domestic violence advocates and counselors report getting the cold shoulder when approaching the sports establishment about expanded programs. NCAVA's Redmond, who is in the process of pitching her own antiviolence curriculum to pro leagues and colleges, complains that "a lot of the athletic departments and the sports teams want the easy liability answer: Have a one-day seminar, and if the athletes don't learn anything, fine, but at least we covered our butts."

Instead, teams usually see their role as providing "support" for their players, even when this might conflict with the needs of their victims. In the 1997 Cordero case, recalls Jane Doe Inc.'s Scannell, Ana Cordero "was in court by herself with the district attorney, and [he] had the attorneys from the Red Sox," while star first baseman Mo Vaughn made a public statement of support for his teammate. Ana Cordero ultimately refused to testify against her husband and asked that the charges be dropped (he was convicted of spousal abuse anyway).

"You see that the league's level of responsibility is to get their players back on the field," former pro quarterback Donald McPherson says of the NFL. "They will give the standard 'We need to get all the facts, we need to go through the judiciary system,' and after that it's not their responsibility."

McPherson, the 1987 Heisman Trophy runner-up, who now runs youth antiviolence programs on Long Island, is skeptical of pro leagues' seriousness about the issue. What's needed is action and not words, he concludes: "As long as people just criticize it and move on with their lives, nothing will make them change."

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