Domestic violence, masculinity and sports culture


By Casey Crow
Special to The PREVIEW

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and as football season once again dictates our Sunday afternoons, it is important to consider the implications of violence against women in professional sports.

Doug Flutie once said, “There’s nothing better than excelling at a game you love. There’s nothing worse than thinking your accomplishments as a player outweigh your responsibilities as a person.”

On Sept. 8 a video was released showing Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens brutally punching his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator. The shocking image of Janay Palmer Rice being flung into the elevator railing and dragged unconscious into the hallway left fans, advocates and sponsors in an uproar. In the weeks that followed, Rice was cut from his team and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.

The rhetoric surrounding the Ray Rice case was sometimes directed away from Ray and onto Janay — a reflection of victim-blaming that often dictates conversations on domestic violence. It even inspired a trending hashtag, #whyistayed, which dominated social media for days criticizing, justifying or supporting Janay’s decision to stay.

The problem, however, is that we are asking why she stayed, rather than asking why Ray Rice knocked his fiancée unconscious in an elevator.

In the wake of the scandal, the NFL has adopted a new, six-game suspension policy for first-time domestic abusers, which quadruples the previous average suspension for domestic violence violations. The new policy is a step in the right direction, yet it fails to address the underlying causes and larger conversation on violence against women.

Dave Zirin, from “Edge of Sports,” says, “This is about a National Football League that treats violence against women as a public relations crisis, not as a crisis about the ways in which the violence of the game spills over into people’s families.”

For a large portion of men and boys across the country, professional athletes represent role models and embody an “ideal” form of masculinity — one of strength, endurance and work ethic, but also aggression. It is important that we consider the implications of glorifying such aggression, and teaching young men that this is the standard for masculinity. Domestic violence is not simply a “women’s issue.” It is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women, and thus is also a men’s issue.

If we are to effectively address the cultural norms that promote violence and victim blaming, men and women must work together. Holding powerful institutions with influence over men and boys accountable for acts of violence, and cultivating positive and diverse forms of masculinity in sports culture is a great place to start.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach or athlete, you have a role to play. The Ray Rice case shouldn’t end with a press release and new suspension policy for domestic violence, it should begin with us.

Join us, the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program, in promoting that all people have the right to live free from violence.

Change starts with you. Learn more about what you can do to prevent domestic violence by calling 264-9075 or by visiting our website at