Sports, Domestic Violence, and the State of the World: What Can We Learn?

domestic violenceThe media is full of stories about sports and domestic violence. We were sickened by video showing Baltimore Ravens superstar Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée and dragging her out of a Las Vegas elevator. But he’s not the only sports figure who has been associated with domestic violence. Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence on August 31, yet he suited up and played for the 49ers on the opening weekend and will continue to play for San Francisco until his case comes to trial. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. The team reported he will continue to play despite the voices of many who feel he should be suspended.

The entire sports world is talking about spousal abuse, child abuse, and violence. Why now? What does it mean? What does it say about the state of our world?

I’ve been working in the area of men’s health for more than forty years. I specialize in treating men who are stressed, depressed, aggressive, and high on testosterone. Although I spend time working with individual men and their families, I’m also concerned about the larger issues in society and how they impact us.

Certainly football players have some unique issues that relate to violence, but what is going on in sports is a reflection of what is going on in the larger society. In order to deal effectively with these issues, we have to look beyond Ray Rice, Ray McDonald, Adrian Peterson and our other sports stars. We have to ask uncomfortable questions like the following: 

  • What’s the relationship between football players being violent to spouses and their children and the large number of fans who cheer for the men and scream louder when they beat up on their opponent?
  • What’s the relationship between men who perpetrate violence on others and the shaming and violence that was perpetrated on them when they were growing up?
  • What’s the relationship between spousal abuse and the ways society views the power relationships between men and women?
  • What’s the relationship between our large prison population, that is predominantly non-white, and issues of race, color, and class in our culture?
  • What’s the relationship between our continued wars overseas and the violence we see at home?
  • What’s the relationship between our continued abuse of our air, earth, oceans, plants and animals, and our abuse of ourselves, and other men, women, and children?

If we want to reduce violence in the world, we have to accept a basic fact of life: Disrespect begets disrespect. Violence begets violence.

We can learn a lot from the experiences of James Gilligan MD who has spent his professional career working with violent men. In his book, Violence: Our Deadly Epidemic and Its Causes, he says, “I have yet to see a serious act of violence that was not provoked by the experience of feeling shamed and humiliated, disrespected and ridiculed, and that did not represent the attempt to prevent or undo that ‘loss of face’—no matter how severe the punishment, even if it includes death.”

We have a long way to go if we’re going to change our violence-prone society. A good place to start would be for us to do a better job of honoring, respecting, and taking better care of ourselves as men. Men who love and respect themselves don’t “discipline” their children violently. Men who love and respect themselves don’t beat up on the women they love. Men who love and respect themselves don’t beat up on other men.

I know there are different views on what we can do to prevent violence. I’d be interested in your thoughts on what I’ve said and on your own ideas about violence and the state of our world.

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  1. Dear Jed,

    I so agree with you : violence creates violence. The more we are surrounded with violence, the more we react violent. I have tried to cut out violence in all kind of forms and shapes, of my life, by living in very natural surroundings, I am an almost % vegetarian, try to cut down on petrol and unnecesary use of energy, BANNED TV and all kind of agressive movies, …. but still had to face domestic psichological violence due to old social behaviour patterns like ‘the man takes the decisions’, ‘the man is bringing in the money’ …. and all the frustrations that comes with it when actualy the women is the one having the money and wanting to take the decisions over her inheritance. As long as we cannot get rid of all the social beliefs that limit us, and as long as we ‘hunger’ for ‘suffering’ and as long as ‘panm et circenses’ still is promoted as a way to keep the population quiet and stupid, we will remain in this vicious circle of violence.

  2. In my opinion the core issue that plagues our society is one of a lack of person self esteem. Again, in my opinion a root cause comes from many / most parents having a distinct lack of education or role models to assist them in growing their children. The stress on new parents is amazing and it is no wonder that when the parents world is surrounded with this lack of knowing when they (feel) they should know often leads to a tenseness and aggression particularly as it pertains to the underlying feeling that you are expected to know whether you are the man or woman in the partnership. Never mind if it is a single parent situation. The raising of a child to be an image of the parent is so very damaging to the child’s ability to eventually self actuate it is a wonder that there isn’t more violence in our society. The interview of the football team’s captain explaining “well that is how my parents raised me and look at me I’m here in the NFL” validates the full circle of credibility of family patterns of behavior.

  3. Thanks for the comments. You’re ideas and insights are helpful to all. Keep them coming.

  4. Here are questions that I, for one, do not have easy answers.
    1. What can the NFL do about domestic violence? Should–and how do they shoulder responsibility? Right now public opinion speaks far more softly than the reactions of their sponsors! As George Will said on Fox News Sunday, the “players come and go.” Football will go on not only because people like to watch sports in general, but because football’s special appeal is “violence.” As Dr. Jed Diamond said in this article, fans actually “cheer” when there are fights.
    2. What have our society, individuals, family members, social service agencies, and businesses done to create an environment where the spouse and girlfriend victims of athletes do not and will not speak against their abusers?

    • Dr. LeslieBeth,
      These are great questions. I see the NFL as fulfilling the role of the gladiators of old. It seems there is a very real need of fans to have the voyeuristic outlet of violence in what seems like a safe environment. Look at pro wrestling, in its faux form it reeks of violence-yet we all know the wrestlers will walk away to wrestle another day.
      I believe there is a very real responsibility of the NFL to treat these outbreaks of violence as unacceptable. So much responsibility comes with being the representative of fans in dreams fulfilled. I wonder how the officials are able to miss the signs that the players are in need of compassionate support and treatment when those signs are so obvious.
      In response to your comment regarding the reluctance of victims to speak out–this is not a new phenomena. I suspect it is one of the components that helps abuse continue to be an issue. Abusers need victims. Victims need abusers. Psychologists know each has a special quality the other seeks out. We cannot treat one without treating the other.
      It is fascinating how the highly honored among us (in this case football stars) get to be the examples for us of our deepest vices. What an interesting place we have created to help us cure the emotional epidemic of domestic violence.

  5. Lawrence Webb says:

    Jed, You are raising several highly appropriate questions about conditions in American society in relation to violence in football and in individual football players. I’d never made the connection on your last point: possible connection between personal violence and willful damage to the world climate. You may be on to something there as well, but I’m certain there is a direct connection between The Game and those other five points. Ours is a culture of violence: stand your ground; shootings in schools and movie houses; armored tanks in small town police departments; police frequently shooting first, asking questions later; Washington constantly expanding warfare into new countries.

  6. I have heard people say that when women stop violating men – allowing their infant sons to be sexually violated via circumcision – then violence against women will decrease. The child apparently interprets the mother’s approval of his circumcision as a betrayal of her duty to protect him from harm. In Europe, where they do not routinely circumcise, it used to be safe for women to walk alone late at night… no longer, due to mass immigration from a circumcising culture. It has been determined that circumcision and misogyny go hand in hand. See and also books by Ronald Goldman. It might help us all to protect our babies from the knives of doctors – and from barbaric religious rites.

    As a student of astrology, I understand that Mars, the planet, rules males, warriors, sports, sex, knives, violence. And I also understand that in both sports and the military, the verbal programming is very violent – “destroy… kill… don’t let them stop you” and such. Lives and income in those fields depend on violence. Once ‘hypnotized’ in that way, it might be difficult for someone to turn the programming off when he gets home. And then there are TV and movies… Our society is currently very very violent. Much healing is needed.

  7. All good points Jed makes, but it is wise to remember that men are also victims of domestic violence often at the hands of women. In Australia and the USA the number of male victims of domestic violence is around one in three. In Australia there are no services for both male victims of domestic violence and female perpertrators of violence – it is the “invisible minority”. For more information on this you can visit the website.

  8. Monty Hansen says:

    I agree with Patricia on circumcision.

    Stop and really think about what an odd and peculiar tradition it is to mutilate a perfectly healthy baby boys body.

  9. All good points, my friends. I know all too well that men are also victims of domestic violence, having been hit by my now ex-wife, threatened with a gun and later with a knife. I also see many male clients who have been abused by women. They feel extra shame since men aren’t supposed to be victims. Circumcision, as I said, in my book The Warrior’s Journey Home, is a form of child sexual abuse. My original publisher wanted me to take it out of the book. When I refused, they dropped the book and it was picked up by a publisher with more integrity and willingness to risk public disapproval.

    An activist against female circumcision said she didn’t believe what was done to baby boys was anything like what was done to little girls. “That all changed,” she told me, “when I witnessed a circumcision and heard the little boy scream. It was the same scream I remembered as a little girl and the same scream I heard from other girls subjected to circumcision.”

    Thanks to all who are helping stop the screams.