You'll hear of a wife murdered before you hear another one come forward.
October 20, 2014 12:33 PM   Subscribe

Whenever Dewan Smith-Williams sees Janay Rice on television, she feels like she's looking into a mirror. Smith-Williams, 44, remembers the denial, the secrecy, the sense of isolation, the shame. But most of all, she remembers the fear of ruining her husband's career as a National Football League player — the feeling that coming forth, or seeking justice, would destroy her four children's financial security. She understands that struggle not only because she, too, was a domestic-violence victim, but because she watched so many other NFL wives, many of them her friends, go through the same nightmare. For each of them, it began with their husbands' attacks and worsened with a culture that, they felt, compelled silence.
Simone Sebastian and Ines Bebea investigate for WaPo: For battered NFL wives, a message from the cops and the league: Keep quiet.

[TW: domestic violence]

Previously on MeFi, #WhyIStayed on Twitter.
posted by divined by radio (41 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
God, I don't know why I was so stupidly naive to have it never occur to me that cops would refuse to take DV incidents seriously because the perpetrator was a pro football player. I was fully aware that they wouldn't take black female victims seriously by default but the sports fan aspect never occurred to me somehow, which is painfully stupid in retrospect considering the obscene deference shown to high school football players that are rapists in small towns.

humans are terrible.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:56 PM on October 20, 2014 [33 favorites]


seriously what kind of human being looks at a man with his wife's blood on his fists and asks that man for an autograph
posted by poffin boffin at 12:58 PM on October 20, 2014 [43 favorites]


I grew up really believing you can trust the police, but I know some of the things I've seen firsthand and read recently really make me think that police officers like to feel like they have authority and their decisions/gut instincts shouldn't be questioned, not even by their better selves.

They decide to see what they want to see. It's sick and scary.
posted by discopolo at 1:02 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Take one for the team, indeed.

Fuck football.
Fuck tha police.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:09 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


For the love of all that is decent, don't read the comments in that article.

The last line in the article is particularly chilling. I fear that it will be the title of a Metafilter post in the future.
posted by el io at 1:10 PM on October 20, 2014


(oh, right, its the title of this post, nonetheless chilling).
posted by el io at 1:11 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


The last paragraph makes that final line even stronger:
If the league is serious about ending domestic violence in its ranks, it must rehabilitate instead of punish, they say. Penalties should be less draconian, so wives don’t worry about ending their husbands’ careers or threatening their families’ livelihoods. “They use [the NFL's current policies] as leverage against you,” says the ex-wife of the Saints player. “There’s abuse on every team. Everybody knows, but you know not to tell.” Ultimately, she says, the case against Ray Rice has made the NFL less safe for women:

“You will hear of a wife murdered before you hear another one come forward.”
It seems that change needs to come from within the NFL, but as pointed out in a related WaPo article, it’s really hard to draft an ‘ethical’ (fantasy) football team. As linked in the article, there's a site that charts NFL arrests since 2000, so you could easily find the players to exempt from your (fantasy) team, but finding good players who would stand up against domestic violence within their teams is a step or five beyond.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:20 PM on October 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


I really can't enjoy watching football anymore and Ray Rice thing is the main reason why (the concussion stuff was the cherry on top).

Janay Rice was pushed into the spotlight, and I question why the article is worded as if she came forward. Maybe I'm cherry picking, but the pictures I've seen of her and Ray Rice show her with stiff and stressed/upset body language, while he's relatively at ease (example, example, example). (It's not her normal demeanor, either - here's a pic of them in 2013.) She's gone on record saying that she never wanted this to be public, and I can understand why - so much of the focus has been on her, not him. I haven't seen anyone excusing his actions, per se, but I have seen a lot of commentary questioning her behavior, some of it on metafilter. The focus needs to be on why the fuck men are doing this shit, instead of accepting it as inevitable and dealing with the fallout afterwards.
posted by desjardins at 1:23 PM on October 20, 2014 [11 favorites]


it must rehabilitate instead of punish, they say

I don't really even know what to say to that. The impression I have gotten as a layman from what I have read indicates that domestic abusers often grew up in abusive households themselves and that the behavioral patterns that lead them to these crimes often reflect a psychology not too far off of alcoholism or drug addiction. So on the one hand, sure... empathy... yeah... try and help those guys. They probably don't want to be horrible monsters. Thing is, though, the more pressing danger in these cases is to the person being battered. And a drunk relapsing may be hard on his wife emotionally, but a domestic abuser relapsing may beat his spouse to fucking death. So fuck those guys, let 'em recover solo after their wives are free and clear.

But then add the wrinkle of, "My kids are being afforded a life of privilege and opportunity that will evaporate if I report this and my husband loses his job"? Shit.

I don't know what to say. It clearly sucks for the entire family if the player's career comes to a screeching halt. But how can the answer possibly be for the woman to stay with him and hope his rehabilitation takes and he doesn't snap and maim or kill her?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:34 PM on October 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Obviously no employer should be ok with its employees -- particularly those who are the public face of their organizations -- being violent criminals. That said, I find this part of the article a little odd:
The wives, whose husbands ended their playing careers in the 2000s, say they knew of no safe alternative — no liaison to players’ families, no counselor, and no procedure for reporting abuse. In fact, the league rarely communicates with wives at all, on issues serious or benign, even though a great number of them don’t work and are dependent on their husbands, they say.
I guess I wouldn't expect the league to have any way to communicate with wives or to provide counselors or means of reporting abuse. Does any other employer? Maybe counselors through health insurance or employee assistance programs, but those things wouldn't be provided directly by the employer. And the procedure for reporting abuse is to call 911. That they police don't take this seriously seems like a police failing, not a league failing. The league's failing is in then not taking it seriously once they do know about.

How this would work in an ideal world (well, an ideal world other for the existence of abuse), is that the abused person would call 911. The police would come, arrest and charge the abuser. The abuser's employers would say "we don't want a criminal being the face of our organization" and suspend/remove/sanction that person, if that was the appropriate action. I see the wives saying this is what they fear because they live on this money, so that's a hard position. I feel like they should get rid of these guys regardless. Why would the organizations want to be represented by a violent criminal; it's no different from the morals clauses that other spokespeople have. They or their wives or both (especially if they separate) will have to get another job -- millions of people do it, but I understand the wives' point of view, too.

So in conclusion, I say: The police failing is not arresting or charging. The NFL failing is covering up and not sanctioning. The NFL not speaking to wives, investigating, or taking the lead beyond making it clear that they won't tolerate this in their employees is not really anybody's failing; it's just the way organizations/employers work.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:38 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would it be any better if the NFLPA could force players to sign an agreement saying that their wives are entitled to no-fault, no-questions asked divorces with 50% of assets and a stout fixed percentage of future incomes?

It doesn't give me the deep satisfaction of knowing the abusers would be shamed, prosecuted, and ruined. But if said ruination threatens their entire families such that abused spouses are afraid to speak up and derail careers... well, then this would make it so that these women could simply walk away. And the threat they'd have of savaging their husbands' earnings/assets might speak louder than morality to some of these assholes when it comes to motivation for rehabilitation.

But then, if the criminal histories of some players are indication, there is a non-zero chance than in at least some chances, the player would try to have his wife killed before he'd give up the money.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:41 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


But then add the wrinkle of, "My kids are being afforded a life of privilege and opportunity that will evaporate if I report this and my husband loses his job"? Shit.

Yeah, but their kids are also being taught that it's ok to treat people who you purportedly love violently, and they're learning that this is the way men treat women and it's normal. I kind of sympathize with this point, but some of me still thinks: get a job, shop at Target and put your kids in public school. In the end they'll be better off that way than rich and damaged. But again, I realize that's much easier to say than to do. I too am conflicted on this point.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:41 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I agree, IIOHAP. I wasn't saying that was a good way to look at things either. There isn't a good option for these women, just different flavors of awful.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:42 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


penguin, I think what you're missing is that the NFL is not like a normal employer - players travel a lot, they get traded a lot, and their wives may not be rooted in a community given that they move around so much. So their community is the NFL. Kind of like the military.
posted by desjardins at 1:43 PM on October 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Would it be any better if the NFLPA could force players to sign an agreement saying that their wives are entitled to no-fault, no-questions asked divorces with 50% of assets and a stout fixed percentage of future incomes?

Most states offer no-fault divorces now, and many states are community property (i.e. you get 50% of assets). So how is this an improvement? Unless you're saying that the players would not lose their jobs. That seems worse.
posted by desjardins at 1:46 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


seriously what kind of human being looks at a man with his wife's blood on his fists and asks that man for an autograph

this might offer you some insight.
posted by any major dude at 1:55 PM on October 20, 2014 [6 favorites]


Thing is, though, the more pressing danger in these cases is to the person being battered.

Yes.

But without rehabilitation, you are just deferring the abuse to the next person. So there is the current victim to think about, but there are also future victims to think about. This is where rehabilitation is paramount. Unfortunately the criminal justice system in the US seems unconcerned with rehabilitation (certainly the public as a whole doesn't express concern about the rehabilitation of criminals).

Removing the victim from the situation is crucial, but it is just treating a symptom of the problem, not the cause.

It sure the hell isn't helpful for the perpetrator to know that he will get support from his employer AND the police. When you add the factor that the spouses are often relocated, they are left without local resources of friends/family (which are often crucial in helping women leave abusive situations).
posted by el io at 1:56 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


Most states offer no-fault divorces now, and many states are community property (i.e. you get 50% of assets). So how is this an improvement? Unless you're saying that the players would not lose their jobs. That seems worse.

Those options are available in some places, yeah. I was wondering aloud whether it would help things to codify that into an across-the-board prenup players had to sign to be in the league. That is, if an abused spouse had the option of picking up and leaving with half of the player's stuff and a hefty chunk of his future on-field earnings without the player being able to so much as say a peep, would that provide enough of an escape route for these women to feel they could flee their abuser without compromising the life they were trying to build for their kids?

It's by no means an ideal situation. In an ideal situation, the player gets held legally and professionally accountable. But if it would get the wives and kids away from these guys at a higher rate...
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:57 PM on October 20, 2014


Abused spouses of people not employed as highly paid professional athletes also stay in abusive relationships because it is their only source of financial support for themselves and their children, and because they may be isolated in a particular kind of community (e.g. military, just to pick one that's similar because it can involve a lot of frequent moves) - I mean, wives of NFL players are not the only ones who are in this situation.
posted by rtha at 2:17 PM on October 20, 2014 [7 favorites]


That's entirely true, rtha. But in this particular case, the Players' Association is essentially making things worse. The morals clauses of the labor organization to which the abusers belong effectively forces a shitty choice on abused wives. They can either: clam up and take the abuse to preserve the financial status quo their family enjoys and/or depends on; or report the abuse and quite possibly end the players' career, ending their kids' lives of privilege and opportunity and just doing the best they can with little to no work history and whatever education they might have. Women from poor rural or urban areas who have risen to the top of the economic food chain can perhaps be understood for being loathe to take that way from their kids.

I'm just wondering (not even proposing, just wondering) if there isn't a way to use the power of the NFLPA to provide an escape route for battered wives of their members, rather than exacerbating their sense of feeling trapped.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:29 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


This time, she called the cops and filed a police report that describes much of the episode; a copy was obtained by The Washington Post. But she was ultimately afraid to press charges. “I didn’t want the father of my children in jail,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I didn’t want him to lose his job. Bottom line.

I wish this story were not so poorly reported. If Smith-Williams called the police and filed a report, she did press charges. And the quote attributed to her does not identify fear as the motive for her behavior.
posted by layceepee at 2:41 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Just this morning in NHL hockey: Los Angeles Kings' defenseman Slava Voynov arrested on suspicion of domestic violence.

Suspended indefinitely by the league pending the results of their internal investigation.

Compare with Colorado Avalanche net-minder Semyon Varlamov's treatment by the NHL last year (Varly was not suspended by the league and playing within a few days) to Voynov's and so hey! something positive has come out of the Ray Rice debacle. It's zero tolerance, at least for the time being.

I'm a long time LA Kings' fan, and a fan of Slava Voynov's play, and, man, this is awful. You want for it not to be true, but you fear that it probably is and hope that the organization does the right thing -- honor the contract and keep mum while the process unfolds, cut him loose when the likely outcome is reached, support the victim and her child throughout.

Ugh.
posted by notyou at 2:43 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am very unhappy with the NFL's (and MLB's etc) unwillingness to respond at all to this issue but I must add because I've been involved with DV issues for a long, long time that the issue is not organized sports -- it is that wealth and privilege are a huge barrier to DV reporting, no matter what the source of the wealth and privilege. There's plenty of DV in every rich community but the victims are, like these, utterly dependent on their abusers financially, and the stigma/shame of reporting is pretty overwhelming when it means threatening the abuser's livelihood and the financial security of one's children.

DV, like sexual abuse (often a feature of DV) permeates all levels of our society but wealth and status are an extra barrier to discovery/reporting/getting help.
posted by bearwife at 2:49 PM on October 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


For the love of all that is decent, don't read the comments in that article.

Yes. But read the comments. I've seen so many ridiculously horrible comments regarding these events that I want people to get reminded of just how many people seriously don't get it. Just how many people think Ray Rice is fine and this whole thing is a media witch hunt. Just how many people think women basically aren't human beings. It's sickening.
posted by cashman at 2:50 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I'm still stuck on this horrible takeaway:

The harsher the potential consequences on the abusive player, the less likely his spouse seems to be to report the abuse and the more likely the player is to get away with it.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:55 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


But people with normal jobs can be fired if they get arrested for DV. That's not different from the NFL, or am I missing something?
posted by rtha at 2:58 PM on October 20, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yes, they can, but the lower the income level the more likely it is that someone else will hear/see/report. The level of isolation and the complete lack of other resources goes up with wealth. Where can these women go? How can they face the formidable financial and social resources their partners can bring to bear?

Don't get me wrong, rtha, ALL DV victims face significant barriers to reporting and lack of resources, but it is a staggering fall from everything to nothing for victims in relationships with particularly rich and powerful perpetrators. There's significant under-reporting from these communities of both DV and sexual abuse, and that is one big reason.
posted by bearwife at 3:04 PM on October 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


I guess another way of putting this which might be cleaner is that the more money/power the perpetrator has, the more control and less fear of repercussions they have.
posted by bearwife at 3:06 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


And while we might hope that say a law firm would fire a lawyer found to be abusing his spouse, that may not be the case. It'd be up to the firm.

With the case of professional athletes, there is increasing public pressure to ban domestic abusers from their respective leagues. A zero tolerance policy sounds awesome, but if all it accomplishes is making it less likely that abuse is reported in the first place, it's not helping.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 3:12 PM on October 20, 2014


I think it's time for an NFL player's wives union.
posted by klanawa at 3:13 PM on October 20, 2014 [10 favorites]


I can absolutely understand why these women stay. It's everything you see and hear about spousal abuse writ large, and this article lays it out perfectly well.

I don't understand why an org like the NFL, with thousands of aspiring athletes banging on the door to be given a chance every year and with the gobs and gobs of money at its disposal, can't get a handle on this problem. Why the NFL can't say, "No, it's OUR league, you play by OUR rules, and yes, we'll boot you if you commit a crime like this because we can replace you so fast you'll weep."

Except I do understand why, because money and patriarchy and indifference.

Man. Fuck that whole company.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:28 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


What is it about the game that makes people like it so much even with all of these awful things?

I've been thinking a lot about this over the past few weeks (well, thinking about it more than normal - I've been questioning my fandom about sports (football and hockey) for a while now).

For me, I think it comes down to a sense of belonging - sports are very good at that, at making those of us who follow them feel they are part of something. It's a tribal thing, maybe, but really I think it's an identity thing - we identify with the team, somehow feel a part of it, and changes to identity can be hard. I think pro sports are also very, very good at providing high levels of drama, excitement, and thrill on a nice intermittent reward schedule - not every game, not every play, but enough to keep you watching for that moment that does. And intermittent/variable ratio reward schedules are very good at creating behaviour and habits.

I was also raised in a household where watching and participating in sports was common; my wife was not. It's been interesting to see the influence that's had on both of us - she now plays hockey and ringette (I'm not anymore, but mostly because even in my middle age I find men's rec hockey to be full of stupidly competitive men who seem to think the NHL still might come calling), but I'm watching less and am less enthused about them in general.

Even though I can lay out a list of very good, very rational reasons to stay away from pro sports as a fan (the money is obscene, the injuries long term and debilitating, the cost to society for the facilities enormous, and the social issues that are starting to really become visible), on an emotional level, I still want to watch. It's a habit I'm breaking slowly. Articles like this help.

But I think that getting the machine that is pro football to change direction will be very hard. I can't envision any single event large enough to cause it to stop or make an immediate turn; it's going to be a series of events that force the changes that need to happen. That starts with fans like me continuing our move away from it, but it's hard and it's slow for us too. I'm planning to cut the cable this week, which will help. But I'll still be checking out highlights on the internet, and for the really big events I'll probably be with family or out at a sports bar. Which might be worse than me just watching at home.
posted by nubs at 4:52 PM on October 20, 2014


it must rehabilitate instead of punish, they say

I don't really even know what to say to that. ... So fuck those guys, let 'em recover solo after their wives are free and clear.


If a stranger on the street beats you, it's easy to file a report and feel happy when they go to jail. But domestic violence comes from someone you love and have a relationship with. Maybe from the outside it's easy to say "drop his abusive ass, send him to jail, and move on" but in the real world people obviously find it to be more complex and difficult. The abuse and the love can both be real, even setting aside the financial and custodial realities that people live within.

I am reminded of (though the particulars are very different) of how some of the very punitive laws meant to aid sex workers can function in ways that inhibit their willingness to go to the police. If you want to protect and help people, you have to start with a nuanced understanding of how things actually work, not a simplistic or unrealistic model.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:03 PM on October 20, 2014 [4 favorites]


I guess another way of putting this which might be cleaner is that the more money/power the perpetrator has, the more control and less fear of repercussions they have.

I was thinking about this on the way home, and you're right - I know you're right. But the idea that abusers who already have so much power and so little in the way of fear of repercussions, who have entire groups of people who do nothing but make sure they face the teeniest consequences possible - it's so galling. I have to stop and deliberately articulate to myself what my goal is: is it to punish the perpetrator, or mitigate the harm he can do? I might not get to have both, so in terms of actual policy, what might work best to mitigate the harm? And then I want to throw up because it might mean that an abuser gets to keep a job he loves, getting paid, getting his reputation protected - but his wife and kids would be less likely to end up dead or orphaned. I think I will go have a tantrum now.
posted by rtha at 6:05 PM on October 20, 2014 [5 favorites]


But people with normal jobs can be fired if they get arrested for DV. That's not different from the NFL, or am I missing something?

People with normal jobs have a median income in the US of about $52,000.

NFL first year rookies have a guaranteed minimum salary for their first year of play of $420,000. The average NFL player salary is $1,900,000 per year.

My first husband's annual income was $12,000 per year, and I had a hard enough time talking to the police when he abused me. I can't imagine how much more difficult it would have been if he had earned actual money.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 11:48 PM on October 20, 2014 [2 favorites]


I understand what they're saying about lowering the penalties for DV, but boy can you imagine the shitstorm, post-Ray Rice, if the NFL came out and announced lower penalties tomorrow? They'd be ripped to shreds for misogyny.

Noteworthy that soccer star Hope Solo has not been punished at all for her (alleged) domestic violence incident.

The Ray Rice video was clearly the NFL's worst moment. As the Onion said, "NFL announces zero tolerance for videotaped domestic abuse." Clearly they were covering it up. And I don't think money really explains it. Someone will (and has) replace(d) Ray Rice, and fans didn't stop going to games.

it's more like that weird, "circle the wagons" mentality that police departments often get. The NFL commissioner serves at the pleasure of the owners, he doesn't want to anger even one owner, and the other ones might be thinking "next time it might be me, so don't raise a fuss."

I don't know, it's bullshit and a cancer and hopefully the publicity will force a change.
posted by msalt at 1:36 AM on October 21, 2014


What is it about the game that makes people like it so much even with all of these awful things?

For many communities, there are two things that bind them: church and the local high school football team and possibly more so the latter. You can't necessarily discuss religion with your neighbors, but the local team is the one safe subject you can broach with all your neighbors. And because of that, any threat to the team can be seen as a threat to community. So you let the little things slide. Then the little things become slightly bigger things until eventually you're turning a blind eye to crimes like domestic violence.

Football is such an ingrained part of those communities that the passion extends up to college teams and pros. I see the same thing in this part of the country with college basketball players. There is such a reverence for them that I'm pretty sure they could kill someone in the middle of the court on national television and there would more than a few deniers.
posted by dances with hamsters at 5:03 AM on October 21, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Even with all these things...."

Hmmm, that's a very broad brush. Football is a large part of American life. It's going to have lots of bad and lots of good things connected to it, simply because it's large. Compared to other sports and high school activities, for one thing, football is the most team oriented, and it teaches a lot of good lessons about cooperation, teamwork and submerging your ego for the good of the group.
posted by msalt at 7:08 AM on October 21, 2014


It seems like the only way to avoid the financial disincentive for reporting domestic violence would be something similar to long term disability insurance that's payable if your spouse is dismissed from the league. A favorable divorce settlement isn't always an option because a.) you may not get one and b.) if the player is banned from play, there may be nothing to get.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 7:58 AM on October 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


msalt, there are many ways to teach teamwork, cooperation, and, um… okay, that whole "submerging your ego" thing is weird, I'm not going to dance around it.
posted by truex at 8:21 AM on October 21, 2014


You think it's weird to value putting off personal ego gratification for the good of a group? Wow. You could substitute "your family" or "your kids" or "the poor" if that makes it easier. But I also hope you don't have to manage an office or something.

This is a lesson taught constantly in football, most recently in the Percy Harvin case, last year with DeSean Jackson, etc.
posted by msalt at 10:55 AM on October 21, 2014


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