Recent revelations about athletes and domestic abuse imply that these horrific acts are particular to sports culture in the United States. This is not so. This phenomenon stems from the oppression of women in class society, which exists side by side with racism, worker exploitation and other forms of inequality and discrimination.
Domestic abuse exists along with other forms of violence against women, their degradation and unequal treatment. Where do the social attitudes come from that perpetuate this oppression? They are embedded in capitalism. As Karl Marx said more than 150 years ago, “The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas.”
How are attitudes promulgated about women’s social status by the super-rich and the government? Congress has not passed an Equal Rights Amendment or the Paycheck Fairness Act, although companies still pay women less than men and pay even less to African Americans and Latinas. Nor has Congress raised the minimum wage, which affects millions of women workers, especially women of color and single mothers. States are undermining women’s rights, closing health care facilities and slashing funds for shelters for battered women.
Sexual assaults and harassment are common occurrences within government departments, in workplaces and on college campuses; few perpetrators are penalized. The U.S. military refuses to prosecute thousands of sexual assault cases within its ranks, and has defeated attempts to remedy this situation, despite the courageous efforts of women’s rights’ advocates.
In her new book, “Off the Sidelines,” New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand cites incidents of sexual harassment that she faced from Congressional colleagues.
A. Hope Jahren, a geobiology professor, wrote in the Sept. 20 New York Times that one-fourth of women scientists surveyed reported being sexually assaulted doing fieldwork. “[T]he perpetrators were predominantly senior to them professionally within the research team.”
Hundreds of women firefighters in the U.S. Forest Services filed a legal complaint in August against the Department of Agriculture, alleging job discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse by male co-workers, which agency officials did not stop, reported the same Times edition.
Demeaning remarks about women, especially low-income and oppressed women, immigrants and youth by right-wing politicians and talk show hosts are repeated endlessly on TV and online.
Colorlines reported that “Fox & Friends” anchors laughed about Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, as if domestic abuse is a joke. (Sept. 8)
U.S. culture endlessly promulgates the demeaning, objectification of and violence against women in movies, TV, video games and the Internet.
One in three U.S. women affected by partner abuse
While degradation of women is part of sports culture, its extreme manifestation of physical abuse is not unique to the sports world. It is rife throughout U.S. society and exists across class, community and regional lines. Experts say that one-third of women in the U.S. (42.4 million) have been physically or sexually assaulted or stalked by an intimate partner in their lifetime.
Yet, the public does not see media coverage of abuse that occurs in the households of the super-rich. Rarely are privileged abusers vilified in the press. However, since racism is always lurking behind the scenes, the media zero in on bad behavior by sports figures, especially vilifying Black athletes.
Where are the news headlines about white CEOs, bankers, military commanders, government officials, politicians, police officers, media moguls or professionals who beat their spouses or partners? Their abusive behavior goes on behind closed doors, not splashed across the headlines. Do any of them lose their jobs because of it?
Federal Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama “allegedly” brutally beat his spouse, Kelli Fuller, in August. This lifetime appointee, named by former President George W. Bush, is still on the bench despite calls for his resignation.
The discrepancies in media coverage and criminal justice inequities are examined in the 2014 Sentencing Project report, “Race and Punishment.” It says the media present “African-Americans and Latinos differently than whites” and “overrepresent racial minorities as crime suspects.” The report criticizes “Crime policies that disproportionately target people of color” which can foster “a sense of legal immunity among whites.” Really.
Underlying professional sports is the drive for profits. Whether or not team owners or officials are racist or sexist is ignored for years — as long as mega-profits roll in. The public racism of former Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling brought so much pressure from players and fans that he was forced to sell the team. Atlanta Hawks’ owner Bruce Levenson and his general manager, Danny Ferry, also got in trouble for their racist rants and are on their way out.
National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell is on the hot seat for inaction on players’ domestic abuse incidents. Pressured by fans, including many women, and corporate sponsors which fear losing profits, Goodell is aggressively penalizing players. On Sept. 15, he named four women executives to advise the NFL on handling domestic violence.
The NFL’s image has deteriorated; it has lost popularity among women, who are seen as vital to the league’s profits. The NFL is seeking “new consumers for its merchandise,” aiming to increase its annual $10 billion in revenue. (NY Times, Sept. 18)
Goodell should have involved women years ago in NFL decision making about domestic abuse, assert many women. Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of UltraViolet, a women’s advocacy organization, says the NFL has a “long way to go before it proves … it takes domestic violence and sexual assault seriously.” (NBC News, Sept. 15) That group and the National Organization for Women, among others, are demanding Goodell’s firing.
NOW’s website says, “Football as a sport is not to blame for domestic violence and the broad cultural tolerance for violence against women. The institution is a product of a wider cultural problem, but that doesn’t mean it cannot play a huge part in changing the culture of violence.” (Sept. 16)