Posted on: April 2, 2008 6:21 am

People Who Care

It’s a character issue.  Professional athletes especially in the NFL, are nothing more then a bunch of thugs.  I’ve heard this characterization, I’m sure you have also.  Perhaps it’s easy to believe this, given the headlines concerning Kobe Bryant, Mike Tyson, Tank Williams, Cedric Wilson, Adam “Pacman” Jones and more.  Of course, this is nothing new.  We remember the drug issues with the Dallas Cowboys of the 90’s and the legal problems with the Cincinnati Bengals players.  It’s not uncommon to see a bench clearing brawl in the MLB and NHL.  The NBA isn’t immune from it either, after all, how many times was the brawl during Pacer-Pistons game replayed on ESPN and other sports shows?

Then of course, we have the South Carolina doctor who was arrested for giving athletes performance enhancement drugs, there’s the Mitchell Report and the infamous “spygate”.  Okay, maybe spygate doesn’t need to be there, but it left questions to character.  Even team cheerleaders aren’t exempt from it, given the incident in Florida by a few Panthers cheerleaders a few years ago. 

Okay, let’s admit it.  We love the sensationalism that these stories bring.  Come on, how many slow down to get a glimpse of the nasty accident on the side of the road?  Why did the slow speed car chase with O.J. Simpson make national news?  Why was it replayed and reported on, over and over again.  The media knows what brings in viewers and readers.  They feed our desire for that “dirty laundry”.  Let’s face it, all you have to do is look at the boards on Sportsline and see that some of the most popular threads are the ones that point out the human error. 

I’m not saying we don’t follow the feel good stories.  The relief effort and the volunteerism by numerous sports figures to those affected by Katrina.  Watching the amazing progress that Kevin Everett of the Buffalo Bills has made since his injury.  We pulled for the Saints to have, at least a good year, during their displacement after Katrina.  Nothing new, Lou Gehrig won peoples heart when he disclosed he had ALS. 

Yet, even these feel good stories tend to get pushed back into the recesses of our memories, or just dumped from it, because soon another story, another incident comes around and we’re eating up these misdeeds, twisting and turning them until we’ve worn them out, then just wait for the next one to come up.  And as we’re feeding on them, we ask ourselves the stupid question of what happened to integrity?  The thing is, that integrity is still out there and is more the rule then the exception.  Yet we focus on the ill-begotten and miss the what goes on every day, outside of the spotlight. 

I had often heard that there aren’t people like Roberto Clemente and Walter Peyton around anymore.  People who care about others, who don’t have the “me me me” attitude.  Interestingly enough, there are more individuals who are like that.  Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphin’s is one of them.  He’s this years recipient of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award.  Actually, the exception in professional sports is the thug like mentality and the rule are individuals who give back to their communities.  And the sports “franchises” encourage this.  Why else would the NFL present the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award or the MLB give out the Roberto Clemente Man of the Year Award?  Yet it’s often just a small blurb in the news, perhaps buried somewhere on the back of a sports page that gets overlooked, more often in the community section.  It’s only news when there’s an award attached to it.  It doesn’t get much play time, unless, like after Katrina, there’s a national effort.

So why does it matter, why write about it?  Well, it matters to me, after all, I’m not only a big one for activism, but also volunteerism.  I guess where there’s a call or a need to help, I’m there.  I quit counting how many March of Dimes walkathons I’ve been on.  I’ve been a girl scout volunteer, not only as a troop leader but also cookie mom (don’t ask me how I got conned into that one) and recruiter for the girl scouts.  I was at one time a certified Red Cross CPR instructor, then there’s the times I’ve acted as a “hugger” (had to be a hugger, nothing less would do) for the Special Olympics events.  The weekend time at the orphanage in Korea, fundraising coordinator for the United Way, blood drive coordinator, organized a few Toys for Tots events, a toy drive for Katrina victims, and the list goes on.  Oh and now that I’m in shape, will be walking in the local Walk for the Cure for Breast Cancer. 

There’s little recognition that goes with volunteerism, and we do it, not for the recognition but for the ability to help others and how it makes us feel.  So since it’s not done for recognition, why write about it?  Perhaps to offset the negativity that is so often seen in the national media.  Perhaps to remind us that integrity in sports on the field and off the field still exists.  For this reason, I’ll be featuring a Wednesday blog extolling the virtues of past and present sports personalities and their charitable works and volunteerism.  It deserves to come off the back pages, it deserves to be recognized.  It’s not something new.  The Fedex Air and Ground Awards gives contributions to the players favorite charities, as does other awards in sports.  Of course, I am not in a financial position to give out large (or even small) checks to every charity or cause, but I am in the position to give my thank you to these individuals (even if they don’t read them).  This is my thank you to them.

Next Week:  A former Baltimore Raven and current Raven front office person and his struggles with ALS,  a former Pittsburgh Steeler and his haven for abused and neglected boys,  A former LA Laker and his efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.

Posted on: March 21, 2008 12:03 pm

Whose Problem Is It?

It is rumored that there is a law still on the books in Newberry County SC, that a man can take his wife to the court house steps in Newberry , on a Sunday and beat her publically with a stick.  This law, at one time did exist.  Given the states increased crack down on domestic violence and tougher criminal domestic violence (CDV) laws, I doubt it’s still in effect. 

We have evolved as a society that once encouraged the husbands to beat their wives to keep them in line, to ignoring the issue and it just being a dirty little secret, to it being an act that should not be condoned.  Although we have made great strides to educate, prevent and rehabilitate, domestic abuse is still a major issue faced in this country.   In 2007, the National Domestic Violence Hotline released their Decade For Change Report in which they’ve estimated 33 million American women have experienced abuse.

The report also goes on to site that:

One in four women have been physically assaulted or raped by a partner vs One in fourteen of men having experienced the same.

Women are 7 to 14 times more likely to report being assaulted, choked, threatened with a gun or knife, or had their partner attempt to drown them.

The Justice Department had determined that 30% of female victims were killed by an intimate partner, compared to 3% of male victims.

That same sex couples were not immuned from being victims of abuse. 

With the numbers in this finding, it is not surprising that since, professional sports is a slice of American society, that the various leagues and franchises in all sports, would be faced with players who have either abused or been abused by their partners.  The recent release of Cedric Wilson from the Pittsburgh Steelers and the report of James Harrison’s assault on his girlfriend, once again shows that, despite education programs provided, makes no team, no sports franchise or figure immune to what is a major problem in society. 

Indeed, abuse and violence by major sports and entertainment figures tend to glaringly point out an issue that often times is under reported. From the most extreme violence, as in the tragedy with WWE’s Chris Benoit’s double murder, suicide and the Carolina Panther’s Ray Carruth, conspiracy to murder charge, to the custody situation with Najeh Davenport, to Darryl Strawberry’s abuse charges, to improperly accused charges against Randy Moss

Incidents like Strawberry’s and Warren Moon’s assault on his wife, has led the MBL, NFL, NBA and NHL to institute programs and policies to address spousal abuse and violence.  These programs are no different then what employers like the military and various large police departments have in place.  However, the police departments are the only employers that I’m personally aware of that actually fire an officer if arrested on a CDV charge.  Others provide intervention.  Most employers tend to release abusers only if their productivity is effected or if it’s outlined in a morality clause in their contract.  Given this, how far should we expect the major sports franchises to go in reprimanding their players for the same things that most of us would get a pass on?

At the time of the release of Wilson, the Steelers organization came out and stated that they have been taking the incidents on a case by case basis.  Often times in the NFL, a player rightfully accused of abuse has faced with some sort of suspension, whether it’s one game or eight.  In two incidents over the past year, only the Steelers and Rams released a player due to a second incident.  The Decade for Change points out that the situation in abuse is complex, especially since no group is immune from it. 

Does releasing a player solve the issue?  Probably not, nor will it prevent it, according to the study.  In fact, the Domestic Violence Service and Community Partnership Panel suggests we should avoid a simple solution to a complex problem.  Just releasing a player wouldn’t change the tide of abuse.  Can it send a message to other players, possibly, but it can also send a message to the victim not to report abuse because their spouse or partner may lose his livelihood, adding another issue onto an potentially volatile situation.

Perhaps all employers, not just major sports organizations need to join the fight against domestic violence to be able to reach out, not only to the abusers, but also potential abusers and their victims and provide resources, either through health insurance programs or access to community based programs.  Until we ask all employers to be accountable for their employees actions, how can we ask anything different from the the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA?

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com