During ancient times, the Spartans were known as ruthless soldiers who worked together in a solid group to bring down their opponent. In fact, many male citizens were trained since early childhood under a government mandated system known as "agoge," where they were taught a curriculum focused on ethics and military techniques. Students were encouraged to engage in physical altercations with each other in efforts to prove dominance and leadership. Participating in the agoge regimen was considered prestigious and even non-Spartan families from aristocratic backgrounds, desired for their sons to be included, as agoge consistently turned out strong and powerful leaders.
Although not nearly on a similar scale, professional athletes today are trained and treated similarly to Spartan soldiers. They are urged to be the toughest and are idolized for their combat skills on the field or court. Unfortunately, some athletes take this domineering attitude home with them, and direct their pent up aggression at their significant others. They are not trained to leave the aggression on the playing field.
Last week, former world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was arrested on charges of eight felony and misdemeanor counts, including domestic battery and harassment, against a woman that he has been in an on-again, off-again relationship with for fifteen years. She is not only his significant other; she is also the mother of his three children. Not only did his children witness the altercation, they were threatened with physical violence if they called the police or attempted to leave.
In an ideal world, a professional boxer assaulting the mother of his children and threatening to kill her would have made headlines. He is an athlete who is trained to take down his opponents and physically endure a stressful setting without feeling tired. He took this training out of the ring, and displayed brute force against an untrained victim. Unfortunately, this is not an ideal world. This is a world where Mayweather's public relations team can and has kept the story under wraps, resulting in the media giving it a nominal nod of disapproval.
Aside from dealing with the local district attorney and police, there is no one to hold Mayweather accountable for his actions. The abuse he inflicted on his significant other and children is ignored because the same public who loves him has no idea he is an abuser. Without any consequences and outrage from those who contribute to his paycheck and status, there is no pressure to change his behavior and stop abusing the people in his life.
Executives who oversee athletic leagues need to hold athletes accountable. If a professional baseball player is accused of steroid use, MLB executives hold press conferences, and institute punishments such as fines or suspensions. They make grand proclamations that athletes should not be taking steroids because it is not only unfair to other athletes but also disappoints millions of fans. However, steroid abuse only affects the athlete and his body. Domestic violence affects not only the abuser, but especially the abused, and those effects can last a lifetime. Meanwhile, because there have been no punishments in accordance with the abuse, millions of fans, many of whom are children and teens, will learn that hurting another individual is not as severe of an offense as steroid use- if the story is published at all.
Leadership starts from the top. Unless league executives respond appropriately when their athletes misbehave, the message will never be sent out that domestic violence is a crime. While some may argue that it isn't their place to meddle in their athlete's personal lives, athletes are representatives of their league and refusing to recognize acts of domestic violence sends the message that the league sees nothing wrong with the crime of domestic violence. As the saying goes, if you are not part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.
It must also be remembered that abusive athletes are human, and if they are not given a proper conduit to channel their aggression after a game is over, they will continue to batter people in their lives. Leagues must take an active interest in facilitating this kind of transition and helping to correct bad behavior. Media attention is additionally required. More focus must be placed on domestic violence to alert the public that some of the athletes they idolize can have a hidden dark side. Accountability from their fans, the media, and from league executives will hopefully discourage athletes from continuing in abusive behavior.
Thankfully, the majority of professional athletes are not abusers, nor do they condone domestic violence. Just as the Spartans were strongly drilled in ethics so they can also serve as exemplary citizens on top of ideal soldiers, these athletes work hard as representatives of positive reinforcement against abuse and for victim advocacy.
This acknowledgement by athletes that domestic violence is wrong is an important step towards eliminating domestic violence in athletics as well as in our society. If the dialogue about domestic violence is not taken up by the media, perhaps it could start in the locker rooms, among teammates. Perhaps there will be accountability from within.
It is critical that professional athletes acknowledge the devastating effects of domestic violence, because with their fame and notoriety their voice can be heard in communities where many other public leaders cannot reach. It is with this idea in mind that Becky's Fund has sought out the collaboration of professional athletes in many of our domestic violence awareness projects.
We hope you will join us on Sept 28, 2010 in Washington D.C. at the Liaison Hotel to honor and showcase those professional athlete role models who will walk the runway to demonstrate their public stand against domestic violence with Becky's Fund. Tickets to attend the show are still available online at http://www.bit.ly/WalkThisWay2010
Co-Authored by Jeanette Lee, a volunteer for Becky's Fund, Kimberly Singh, intern for Becky's Fund, and Becky Lee, Executive Director of Becky's Fund
For more information on Becky's Fund and the work they do to help end and prevent domestic violence, please visit www.beckysfund.org.