Just hours after the Ray Rice inside-the-elevator video surfaced, an off-duty Honolulu police sergeant chased his girlfriend through the tiny restaurant where she is a manager and threw punch after punch, eventually knocking her to the ground with violence that is difficult to watch. But watch it we can because the restaurant turned over the surveillance video to the Honolulu Police Department, who took away the sergeant’s badge and gun, opened a case, and released the details to the public, despite the girlfriend’s plea that “he didn’t hit her hard” and that they were just “playing around.” Maybe Kuni Restaurant and Lounge turned over the video so readily and HPD acted so swiftly because of the Rice incident. Or maybe the restaurant owner and police chief Louis Kealoha already understood what Roger Goodell and the NFL still haven’t figured out: domestic violence is a despicable act of cowardly brutality, and like any bullying, the only way to stop it is to stand up and say no more.
I’ve never been knocked unconscious in an elevator or thrown to the floor in my workplace, but I was shoved against a wall and fought to maintain control of my car on a darkened freeway, both at the angry hands of the man I eventually married. The abuse continued on and off throughout our 17-year marriage, during which I made excuses for him, considered it the ups and downs of marriage, and worked mightily to keep our secrets safe. I founded and ran a successful business, he became volunteer soccer coach of the year, and our annual Christmas party was the not-to-be-missed event of our friends. We were the perfect family in the great beach house living a dream. The nightmare was reserved only for my kids and me.
Both videos tell a graphic story of abusive, powerful men and the latitudes they are given. Janay Rice is left lying in the hallway while a security guard, Mr. Rice, and two others ignore her battered body. It is a long two minutes before anyone comes to her aid, most likely defying Mr. Rice to do so. In Honolulu, the officer chases his girlfriend throughout the restaurant before good Samaritans eventually distract him and someone offers her assistance. These men wield power and incite fear, and they know how to use it.
Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll announced amidst the Rice frenzy that the issue has caused him to re-evaluate how he selects players and that the team has already held player meetings to address domestic violence. Coach Carroll is doing what the rest of the NFL didn’t have the sense to do. He is getting in front of the issue and sending a loud message to his team and his fans that violence against women will not be tolerated.
Is Coach Carroll doing it because he suddenly saw the light? Maybe. Or maybe he realized that this isn’t just a “women’s issue.” It is a business issue, right here at the beginning of the season, where 46% of the NFL fans are women, and 63% of all women ages 12 and up identify as an NFL fan. Maybe Coach Carroll imagined how different his season might play out if, rather than crowd shots of smiling women wearing Russell Wilson’s #3 jersey, they instead decide to wave banners with the hashtag #WhyIStayed.
Imagine the good the NFL could do, albeit for the sake of the business dollar, if they used their bully pulpit to send a decisive message to their players – and to the millions of households who love their football – that domestic violence will not be tolerated. Imagine their expanding lines of women’s apparel including a domestic violence message. Imagine the Public Service Announcement featuring football greats – Donavan McNaab, Joe Theismann, announcer Chris Berman, Jerry Rice, both generations of Mannings – denouncing violence and advocating help for families whose lives are a secret hell.
Domestic violence isn’t just a women’s issue. It’s a family issue, a men’s issue, a children’s issue, a police issue, and all too often, an issue that ends in murder. For the NFL, however, it is also a business issue, and here at the beginning of their season, they get to choose.
They already know that Super Bowl XLVIII was the most watched TV show by women in 2014, eclipsing the Grammys, the Academy Awards and all the various season finales. They’ve got just over three months before the next Super Bowl kick-off. How many of those women will still be tuning in?
HPD has it’s own history of ignoring or downgrading domestic violence complaints. But at least this time, Chief Kealoha walked the walk and is answering tough questions from Hawaii’s women about HPD and domestic violence. It’s too bad the Pro Bowl is headed to Phoenix in 2015, rather than returning to its home base, Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. At least in Hawaii, maybe the wives and girlfriends of the NFL could know that someone has their back.
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