The 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.