I live in Boytown. One husband, two sons, and three male cats. My husband, being the biggest and oldest kid among them, loves sports. The kids follow suit and the cats couldn’t care less. Mostly I don’t mind the sports thing. I grew up with a brother and a dad who love sports too, so I’m used to weekend games on the television. I can easily jump into the excitement of a really good match.
But now that football season is here, I’m not so sure. Watching my son watch these grown men hit, push, and shove each other makes me wonder if the lessons we’re trying to teach him about gentleness among friends will be overridden by the sight of burly tough guys beating the crap out of each other. And the fans are cheering! Grown-ups no less!
Now in the wake of this summer’s headline grabbing news about Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and his involvement in dogfighting, I’m realizing there’s an even bigger problem. For those of you who missed it, Vick was arrested and pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges. Not only is he awaiting sentencing in December, the National Football League has suspended his career indefinitely.
No doubt, animal abuse is a horrible thing and Vick’s punishment is deserved. But Sandra Kobrin points out in a column for Women’s Enews, that many more professional athletes have committed spousal abuse, a fact that has not generated the equivalent outrage. According to Kobrin, “Beat a woman? Play on. Beat a dog? You’re gone.” Oh brother.
According to Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL’s Player Association, “the practice of dog-fighting is offensive and completely unacceptable.”
I just wish the NFL had the same outrage toward spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence. But they don’t. Not by a long shot.
Scores of NFL players as well as players from the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball have been convicted of domestic abuse, yet they play on with no fear of losing their careers. Most pay small fines, if that, and are back on the field immediately.
Partly this can be explained by the fact that animal rights groups went ballistic over the dogfighting scandal. Kobrin notes that well-funded organizations such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have demanded a boycott of companies that continue to sponsor Vick and they are bombarding the NFL with letters demanding a no-tolerance policy when it comes to cruelty to animals by football players. Vick has already lost most of his sponsorship deals worth millions of dollars.
Apparently women’s advocacy groups haven’t mustered their strength in the same way and players in the NFL who have been convicted of spousal abuse or domestic violence have not received suspensions from play. Disappointingly, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association aren’t any better, Kobrin says.
Last summer Philadelphia Phillies’ pitcher Brett Myers assaulted his wife on a public Boston street and was charged with assault and battery. Major League Baseball did not penalize him, shrugging it off as an off-field incident. Are they saying a player needs to abuse his spouse during a game to get sanctioned? If so, just how does that work?
Jason Kidd of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets pleaded guilty to spousal abuse in 2001. Was he punished by the NBA? No.
The Sacramento Kings’ Ron Artest was suspended last season for 72 games for fighting in the stands. In March he was arrested for domestic violence. For that he got what amounted to a hand slap; an immediate two-game suspension and a $600 fine for a player who makes several million a year.
All of this is terrible. It certainly doesn’t make me want to encourage my sons to look up to these guys, which is what kids do. They want to be these all-star athletes. Even Vick, stupid as he must be to do what he did, knows that kids look up to him. In addition to making apologies to Atlanta Falcons teammates, his coach and the National Football League, Vick also said he was sorry “to all the young kids out there for my immature acts,” according to this CNN story.
So what to do? Being a sports fan has many good points too. It fosters a sense of community and hometown spirit. And it will give my husband a lifetime of conversation starters with his sons in case he ever needs them. This isn’t to mention the fact that loving professional sports will likely translate into wanting to play sports which I also believe is good for their mental and physical health.
What do you all think? Is this a case of a few bad apples or is professional sports rotten to the core?