This is part one of a two-part series on domestic violence in professional sports.  Here in Part 1, we will talk about the issue – cases and statistics – and in Part 2 discuss what these means for our society.

The Fight of the Century.  That was the headline for the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao bout on May 2.   While the fight lacked flash, the hype did its job – though the official numbers have not been announced, it’s expected to bring in well over $350 million, setting a pay-per-view record.  The sports world has been buzzing over Mayweather’s bravado (love it or hate it), undefeated record, and control of a mostly lackluster fight.  What’s not getting the same publicity is Mayweather’s violence outside the ring, well profiled in this article by the website Deadspin.  Among the incidents:

  • He pled guilty to 2 counts of battery against former girlfriend and mother of his daughter, Melissa Brim, after reportedly punching her in the neck in a Las Vegas mall.
  • He pled guilty to 2 counts of battery for an incident in Las Vegas where he reportedly hit 2 friends of his then  girlfriend and now mother to 3 of his 4 children, Josie Harris. He also picked up and shook a female security guard who intervened.
  • He was charged with punching and kicking Harris in a car, then dragging her out of the car resulting in a facial laceration. Harris later dropped the charges.
  • He spent 2 months in jail for attacking Harris at home, in front of their children, punching and kicking her.
    • The 911 call was made by one of Mayweather’s children.
    • Mayweather also pled no contest on 2 counts misdemeanor harassment, from threatening to kill his children.

These issues have been raised before, including by reporters Rachel Nichols for CNN and Michelle Beadle for ESPN.  Those two reporters had their press credentials revoked before the fight.  How?  At the request of the Mayweather camp.  Credentials were also refused to other journalists who have been outspoken regarding Mayweather’s history of domestic violence.

And Mayweather is by no means the only athlete with domestic violence on his record.   There is the tragic story of Monique Bradley, wife of former major league baseball player Milton Bradley.  I would recap it but, frankly, everyone should read the heart-breaking story from Sports Illustrated.

In July of 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended 2 games by the NFL for allegedly punching his fiancée in an elevator.  Then, in September, video of the incident was released, allegedly went to definitely, and Rice was suspended for the year.  Problem is: The NFL levied the 2-game suspension in July, and the AP reported later that they received the full video in April (though the NFL’s Commissioner denies he had seen it).

There are also rumors of a video of Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant beating a female in a parking lot.  Though the footage has yet to surface, people who claim to be in the know say it is worse than the Rice video.

According to Adam Silver’s 538.com, the NFL has a lower arrest rate than the general public, just 13% of the national average for the male 25-29 age group.  However, domestic violence has a 55.4% relative arrest rate versus the national average, by far the highest percentage among the various crimes committed by NFL players.  The report states that “domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally.”

The NFL is not the only pro-sports league with domestic violence issues.  Of the 4 major sports leagues in the US (National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball, and the National Hockey League), the NBA has had a worst arrest rate when it comes domestic violence, once you take into account roster size (there are only 15 players on an NBA roster, while there are 53 on NFL teams, 25 on MLB teams, and 23 on NHL teams).

We can list player after player, incident after incident – the point is that this is a glaring issue among professional athletes that needs to be addressed.  And despite the proliferation of domestic violence arrests, only the NBA had a policy on domestic violence prior to the Ray Rice incident (after which the NFL developed a policy).  Major League Baseball and the players union met in January of this year to begin crafting a policy.  In the past 25 years, not once has MLB issued a penalty or suspension at the commissioner level to a player arrested for domestic violence.  The NHL has the fewest arrests among the 4 major sports, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.  And the NHL’s Commission Gary Bettman, when asked about the NHL and a domestic violence policy, said:

 “So I’m not sure for us there is any need for any code of conduct other than our players, who overwhelming conduct themselves magnificently off the ice — we deal with it on a case by case basis. I don’t think we need to formalize anything more. Our players know what’s right and wrong, and as I said, we have the mechanisms in place to hopefully not get to that point.

11 days later, a defenseman on the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings was arrested for domestic violence.

Without question there is a pattern of domestic violence in professional sports in America.  And the public outrage over the Ray Rice incident has pulled back the curtain and forced these billion-dollar industries to face serious questions.  So is it our job as a society to hold these leagues accountable for disciplinary action against the players?  We’ll take a look at that in Part 2.

Featured Photo Credit: Flickr user Bryan Horowitz via Creative Commons

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