So much speculation around the circumstances leading up to NFL football star Jovan Belcher killing his girlfriend and mother of their child and then himself. Was it drugs? Was it a concussion making it it hard for him to think clearly? Was it having easy access to a gun? These are tangential questions diverting attention away from the core issue. In killing his girlfriend what Jovan Belcher did was commit the ultimate form of domestic violence: murder.
“We don’t condone any kind of domestic violence of any kind in any way,” said Giants GM Jerry Reese after signing another NFL player Michael Boley who threw his girlfriend into a wall. “But Michael Boley does all kinds of community service and people never talk about that.” Excuse me? Somehow the fact that an abuser does community service mitigates the act of being violent to his girlfriend? Reese is echoing here the general tendency in our society to judge a book by its cover. He does community service. Therefore he must have some redeeming qualities. That may be true. It may also be true, and it is often true, that abusers use these public acts of charity and generosity to hide behind. These are the smokescreens that allow them to commit all kinds of heinous acts against their partners in private, while preserving their positive social image. Maine Coach Jack Cosgrove described Belcher’s “infectious smile” and said he was a great role model who worked well with children — Belcher had been a child development and family relations major. He was also an abuser.
Another NFL superstar O.J. Simpson was idolized by his fans–a star on the football field, in movies, and in commercials, possessed of that glib charm and easy manner so at odds with who he was when the cameras were pointed elsewhere. But Nicole Simpson knew the other side of her funny, charming, famous husband. And so did the police. But when they responded to her 9-1-1 calls, they too were swept up in the charm and mystique of fame, power, wealth, and influence. After multiple beatings and 9-1-1 calls, Nicole Simpson said to the police, “You never do anything about him. You talk to him and then leave.” Former police officer Ron Shipp, who’d received special training in domestic violence, testified at the trial that Nicole had called him a few days after the most recent incident and asked him to talk to O.J. about his violent behavior. Though Shipp told Simpson that he fit the police profile of a batterer, he also listened to the pleas of his idol to help squelch the case and spoke to a police supervisor on O.J.’s behalf.
O.J. pleaded no contest to the spousal abuse charge. Municipal court Judge Ronald R. Schoenberg did not impose a stiff punishment. Ordered to receive domestic violence counseling, Simpson was allowed to choose his own therapist, and in September, when he moved to New York City to work for NBC as a football commentator, the judge permitted O.J. to continue his sessions by phone. Deputy city attorney Alana Bowman said that out of the 20,000 domestic violence cases her office handled each year, O.J. was the only defendant allowed to undergo counseling by phone.
Once again we see that there is one set of rules for the general public and another for the rich and famous. Though Nicole repeatedly called the police for help, no other records of O.J.’s assaulting her have surfaced. As Shipp testified, O.J. was always happy to show off his Heisman trophy to local police—over the years, Shipp says he brought 40 police officers to the Simpson home—and O.J. once even appeared as a celebrity guest at their Christmas party. “The average cop on the street is just as starstruck as the next guy,” said an L.A. County deputy district attorney. “Add to that the fact that officers may actually have partied with the Juice, and Nicole didn’t have a chance.”
Nicole’s head was so badly bruised after one of his beatings that O.J. drove her to a local hospital, where she told the physician treating her—Dr. Martin Alpert—that she had had a bicycle accident. As he told investigators, Dr. Alpert did not believe Nicole’s explanation. It’s not known whether he reported his suspicions; only in 1993 did it become a misdemeanor under California law to fail to report domestic abuse.
What’s a woman to do when she gets involved with a man whose power, money, influence and sometimes fame elevate him to almost god-like status? Of the 32 NFL teams, 21 of them have this year had at least one player who’s been charged at some point with domestic violence or sexual assault.Who do you call when all the social, legal, and medical systems put in place to protect you don’t? Who do you call when they abandon you, re-victimize you, and circle the wagons around your famous, charming, community-minded abuser? Who do you call?