When the 2014 World Cup finished, I wrote an article for an online youth outlet in the UK calling on men to stop asking women “But how come you love soccer, you’re a girl?” Not only is this attitude outdated, but it is also completely true that women love, watch and play sports as much as men, including those sports traditionally seen as ‘masculine’ – soccer included.
The rather more worrying trend I emphasized though was what emerged since the football tournament in South Africa in 2010 – namely, domestic violence increases significantly during major sporting events and the usual victims tend to be intimate partners: wives and girlfriends. In England, after game losses of the national team, domestic violence tends to increase by up to 25%, the National Centre for Domestic Violence has found out. This may be a direct result of high levels of viewers’ engagement and passion for the game, but may also be due to drinking and betting. Multiple campaigns have so far focused on this issue but sporadic TV ads in the middle of the World Cup or the European Championships may not really be enough.
As soon as the 2014 World Cup finished, domestic violence and its connection to sporting events moved out of the spotlight. Instead of dropping down, the levels of violence rose however, and interestingly, violence increased amongst athletes themselves. A number of worrying reports were released about National Football League players allegedly beating and assaulting women. Joe Mixon, Greg Hardy and Ray Rice were all under fire (with the latter publicly punching his fiancée in an elevator and attempting to drag her out, for which he got an immediate “impressive” punishment of TWO whole games). But that’s not all – in recent years there have been at least 44 NFL players accused of sexual or physical assault. The list is publicly available here.
Now, the NFL condones violence, of course it does, but the alarming rate of players being involved in such dangerous acts against loved ones means more significant steps need to be taken to tackle the problem and not merely condone it. Education should be the first step – educating the players, their coaches and counselors for the dangers of such behavior and for alternative ways of releasing tension, as well as educating women and girls how to empower themselves. And secondly, elites should be ripped off from their privileged status and more severe punishments must be given to deter future acts of aggression. Suspension for a season is merely enough in the case of Joe Mixon breaking a woman’s face in a restaurant. Or multiple other cases recorded here which list the resolutions of the assault cases and more than once conclude with ‘suspended for one game’. One!
All in all, applying clear policies of expulsion in cases of on or off campus aggression in all colleges and non-college settings, and introducing intimate partner violence classes are both musts, in the US and beyond.
We shouldn’t wait for another major event to start talking about sports and violence again, the conversation should never end.
Photo credit: Abilgail Keenan