Whenever my siblings would fight, my mother would sing the old Forties standard, “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” While our daily squabbles amused my mom, there is nothing funny about how apropos those lyrics seem today.
Every day in the news, it seems, I read about a new allegation involving an NFL football player and domestic violence. Last week I wrote about the plight of Janay Rice, whose husband knocked her out cold with a vicious punch in the face. This week the spotlight is on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has been accused of child abuse in the whipping of his 4-year-old son that resulted in lacerations needing medical attention. Just today, another allegation surfaced that Peterson also hit a different child while the child was in a car seat, once again causing injury.
These are just the two most prominent cases of domestic violence confronting the NFL at the present time. And the NFL cases are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to incidents of spouse and child abuse. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, “More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the United States have experienced rape, physical violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.[vi]” (http://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/)
The statistics on child abuse are equally troubling. “More than four children die every day as a result of child abuse,” according to ChildHelp.org. (Statistic comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.) Furthermore, also according to government sources, having been abused as a child increases the chances of being incarcerated, developing drug or alcohol dependency, and becoming an abuser later in life. Clearly, the problems of family violence are much bigger than the issues confronting the NFL today.
Yet the NFL could lead the way by refusing to allow abusers to play in the league, providing resources for the families of NFL players, and offering counseling and education to prevent family violence. The reach of professional sports is vast. Football is arguably the most popular American sport these days. If NFL officials had the courage of their convictions and made domestic violence anathema in America, maybe ordinary men and women would be inspired to seek the help they need to have happy, healthy families.