Mostly whimsical reflections on life
The suspension of Ray Rice and deactivation of Adrian Peterson from their respective professional football teams has elevated a national conversation about domestic violence. Truthfully, we didn’t need these examples to tell us what’s going on. We already know.
Looking can be embarrassing. Victims experience a loss of self-esteem. Many blame themselves. Perpetrators may be our fathers, brothers or good friends, so we look the other away or make excuses. The innocence of children can melt away.
Americans can be quick to deplore unfathomable cruelty to women and girls in India, Africa and the Middle East. But we tolerate behaviors just as bad in our families and neighborhoods. It is too awkward to get involved, so we don’t.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has justifiably faced criticism for his clumsy, blockheaded response to the Rice suspension after the running back decked his wife in a public elevator and dragged her out like a bag of trash. But Goodell’s response may uncomfortably mirror our collective ho-hum response to known cases of domestic violence that are just as bad and closer to home.
Major brands and sponsors have canceled contracts or expressed concern about the NFL’s response. But these voices seem fresh to all-too-real violence that takes place everyday in our communities and often is turned into entertainment on reality TV.
It seems undeniable that it will take more than high-profile examples to make a difference. We need a culture change.
Many men, including me, grew up with mothers – and fathers – who made it very clear that hitting a woman, regardless of the reason, was wrong. Our parents didn’t pummel the point home. They just made it clear it was unacceptable behavior that would not be tolerated.
Unfortunately, too many men grow up witnessing their mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins or other family members being sexually or emotionally abused. Many now do what they saw as impressionable children.
We cannot undo their childhood or tinker with their psyche. But we can make it absolutely clear as a society there is zero tolerance for this kind of abuse. Instead of passing more laws, we need to point more fingers when we see clear evidence of abuse.
Exposing domestic violence when we see it won’t make it disappear. But it will address the problem of abuse flourishing in dark shadows. When men see they can get it away with abuse, they keep abusing. If men see their careers, their privileges and their friendships vanish as a consequence of abuse, they will realize the need to clean up their act. That realization won’t occur if they are only forced to stand on the sidelines a couple of weeks. That lesson won’t absorbed by young men who take their cues from the pros.
Relentless social pressure will require the sustained efforts – and frequent gut checks – by men willing to step out of their comfort zone to confront other men who abuse women, especially men who are family members, coworkers or friends. It might actually be tougher for good men to change their habits of looking the other way than men who routinely and thoughtlessly abuse women. There aren’t many places to go for counseling on how to act on your convictions.
Church and community leaders can play a role in speaking out about domestic violence. Coaches can play an especially powerful role with young men who want playing time on the field and are willing to listen to what they say in the locker room.
No one needs to feel sorry for the NFL, Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson. But instead of focusing just on them and adopting a holier-than-thou attitude, we need to take a wider look at the problem that infects far too many men and victimizes far too many women and children.
It is time for us as a society to man up.