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The Relationship Between Sports and Domestic Violence in the United States

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There’s no doubt that sports in the United States are idolized to our youth, athletes are portrayed as heroes representing our country going for the gold. For many years, sports have brought together our states and nation, rooting for one team creates a sense of unity and excitement. But, what most people don’t realize is how these “heroes” use their power and popularity to commit degrading acts against women. Over the years the link between sports and domestic violence has increased. As stated in A Man Should Never Eat a Pickle in Public by Pepper Totten, “According to the World Health Organization, physical and sexual violence against women by domestic partners produces female victims at a rate of more than 70%. Recent reports of high profile Black athlete perpetrators sparked this study.” This essay will review several high profile domestic violence cases, statistics of how this topic has grown over the years.

One of the most recent cases of domestic violence in sports happened two years ago between a football player and his fiancée. The entire domestic battery attack was aired on the internet. “The September 2014, publicly displayed violent attack of Ray Rice against his then fiancée, Janay Palmer, was the latest high profile case in what has become an all-too-common tale of violence against women. Rice, a Baltimore Ravens’ running back, was recorded in an elevator of the Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City delivering a single punch to the face of Janay Palmer.” (A Man Should Never Eat a Pickle in Public by Pepper Totten).

This particular case really opened America’s eyes to the dangerous power that multimillion dollar athletes hold. The competiveness and masculinity associated with athletes, teams and coaches shows not only on court but off court as well. Another violent case was between Red Sox player Wilfredo Cordero and his wife Ana. Even though he tried to strangle her in their home, he was eventually released of the charges and still allowed to play for the baseball team on top of signing an extended contract. This is a prime example of how athletes develop a sense of power and control due to no repercussions for their violent behavior. Unnecessary Roughness: Gender and Racial Politics in Domestic Violence Media Events, Cordero was not punished for his crime as most people would have been put behind bars. It was eventually released that Ana was not Cordero’s first victim. He had been assaulting his partners throughout his entire contract with the Red Sox.

“A story published in the Jan 31, 1993 edition of the Washington Post debunking recently revealed research regarding a rise in reports of battered women on Super Bowl Sunday received complaints of bias and sexism in the author, Ken Ringle. Ringle’s story is based on his inability to find anyone willing to document a claim by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), a media group, that calls to shelters and police rose by 40% on Super Bowl Sunday” (A Super Bowl-battered women link? Jean Cobb American Journalism Review)

“Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) crime statistics suggest that one woman in the U.S. is beaten every 18 seconds and that between 2,000 and 4,000 women die from physical abuse by intimates every year. The FBI also estimates that a woman is raped every 6 minutes in the U.S…” (Unnecessary Roughness: Gender and Racial Politics in Domestic Violence Media Events by Mary G. McDonald page 2). Marriah Burton Nelson, author of The Stronger Women Get, The More Men like Football: Sexism and the American Culture of Sports, believes The culture of sports is a breeding ground. It begins with the little league coach saying, ‘you throw like a girl.’

This teaches boys to feel superior. Masculinity is defined as aggression and dominance. In order to be a man you have to be on top, to control, to dominate (qtd in L.A. Times). Dr. Myriam Miedzian author of Boys Will Be Boys: Breaking the Link between Masculinity and Violence, agrees with Nelson. He thinks, “Athletes are taught to hurt people. Empathy has been knocked out of them” (qtd in American Health). Most coaches do not allow their players to have a real relationship because they are afraid that a female influence will “soften” a player. The athletes are taught not to “see the guy across the line as a human being, how can they see women as human beings? As long as you rear boys to be tough, dominant, in charge, they simply won’t be prepared for contemporary women (Miedzian).” Most researchers agree that one of the main reasons athletes abuse their spouses is because they have grown accustomed to the mistreatment of women which surrounds sports. “Sports culture creates a negative attitude towards women, attitudes of superiority that could lead to violence,” says Michael Messner, associate professor of sociology at USC (qtd in L.A. Times).

Alisa DelTufo, the founder of Sanctuaries for Families, a shelter for abused women, admits, “Domestic Violence is a very difficult cycle for a woman to break (qtd in Sports Illustrated).” And the cycle of abuse is even harder to break in court for a wife of an athlete. “The police often work harder collecting autographs than evidence. The media and the fans, including those on the jury, tend to side with the icon over the iconoclast (Callahan).” When Sun Bonds finally decided to file a divorce, the judge, who was a baseball fan, awarded her a sum of $7,500 per month, which is half of what she was supposed to receive. The biased judge then asked Bonds’ for an autograph.

We live in a world where men express their manliness by demeaning women. Where men are encouraged to act aggressive and dominant. Where men when asked, “what are they going to do?’ after they lost a game reply, ‘I’m going home to beat my wife (all-star, Charles Barkley).’ Unfortunately this is the reality we live in. Sport associations need to set rules and punishments for a player who abuses his spouse. They can punish an athlete for using drugs, why can’t they do the same for perpetrators of domestic violence? I think coaches should discourage the bad-mouthing of women that takes place in the locker room, and encourage them to see counselors. The fact is as soon as an athlete puts on his uniform for the first time; he is viewed as a role model, whether he likes it or not. I agree that the recent attention means we are now taking domestic violence more seriously, but the victims of abuse want solutions, not publicity.

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The Relationship Between Sports and Domestic Violence in the United States. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 17, 2021, from
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