Tracey Thurman had a scar from behind her right ear, down and across her neck. It was red and looked just freshly healed when I interviewed her, and I worked hard to keep my eyes on hers and not the scar.
We were outside the courthouse where her case against the Torrington, Connecticut Police Department was being decided. She had sued the police for violating her civil rights by failing to protect her from the husband who gave her that scar -- and a lot more I couldn't see.
It was 1984. That abusive husband had nearly killed her. As the (Hartford) Courant reported, "In his most brutal attack, on June 10, 1983, Charles "Buck" Thurman stabbed Tracey 13 times, stomped on her head, broke her neck, and left her for dead in a friend's driveway."
Thurman sued because the city police had failed to take seriously her husband's attacks -- despite restraining orders and clear signs of violence. Because he was her husband, the cops turned their heads. Thurman was awarded $2.3 million as the first woman to file such a case.
There would be a movie about her life. And a new, stronger law in Connecticut to protect victims and educate and train cops to deal with domestic violence.
At the time, I didn't have any experience with domestic violence. But Tracey Thurman's story led me to a series of stories about domestic violence and a shelter that protected its victims.
I was a television reporter and had to promise not to broadcast the address of the shelter or any clue about where it was located. I couldn't show the face of any woman who'd sought refuge there. Their abusers would hunt them down.
One after another, I'd hear their stories. No money. No job. No place to go. No way to get there. But they'd found a way out. Found a way to this shelter, often with kids in tow. I have never forgotten their fear or their courage.
So maybe that explains why I don't have much sympathy for Ray Rice or the other three pro football players facing domestic violence charges. Just hearing the words "assaulted" and "pregnant girlfriend" in the same sentence makes me furious. These guys have money, lawyers, fame -- and thanks to the NFL, they are likely to have long, lucrative careers once this all blows over.
Which brings me to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and a league that claims to be nonprofit but generates so much money that even the commissioner collected a $40 million paycheck. (Know any other nonprofit that pays that well?) Goodell ought to be fired, but he won't be, because in the NFL, money is what matters.
The NFL hires women consultants, tries to sound contrite not because they are suddenly learning about all the violence that's spilling from playing field to home (or elevator), but because they are realizing it could cost them women fans and dollars.
I don't know what to think about the players' wives or why they stay. You can't ever know what really goes on in a marriage when you're not in it. But these wives have money, lawyers; power that most domestic violence victims lack. If they want out, they've probably got a pretty nice car to drive away.
It's time the NFL did the right thing and took tough action against domestic violence and all the players -- no matter how famous, how talented, or how much money they generate -- who think they can get away with it. It's not just for the players' wives, or even for the women fans, but for all the women who don't have husbands with pro football salaries, just a mean streak and a wicked left hook.
There's no recipe at the end here. Nothing sweet could take away the bad taste of all this. So I end on a different note: hoping every domestic abuser out there gets their just desserts -- whether it's a suspension, jail time, or both, and their victims find a safe harbor. Support a shelter near you. I do.