Sunday, August 03, 2014

Is Media Outrage Over Domestic Violence Proportionate to the Perception of the Perpetrator?

NRA general counsel Robert J. Dowlut (center)
After recently reading Dave Gilson's disturbing must-read story on about how NRA general counsel Robert J. Dowlut was set free from prison on a legal technicality after evidence showed he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend's mother Anna Marie Yocum in 1963, I've been thinking about how the media treats men who commit violent acts against women.

Media coverage of preseason NFL training camps has evolved significantly from when I played professional football to the point that there's a near constant stream of live TV coverage of the goings-on in all 32 teams' camps. Because NFL training camps consist largely of repetitive drills, different positions off practicing separate from one another and players driving or walking back and forth between practice and their dorms, ESPN's coverage includes a lot of commentary, speculation and opinion to keep the audience interested.
Earlier this year many were understandably outraged after disturbing video surfaced of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiance Janay Palmer out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino in February just minutes after they had allegedly gotten into some kind of physical altercation with each other. The NFL suspended him for two games and fined him $58,000 for violating the League's player code of conduct standards.

Last week I watched the coverage of Rice's press conference as he publicly apologized for the incident. Many of his teammates attended to show support for him, and Rice's now-wife, the victim in the incident and mother of his child, was also in attendance.

Personally I was raised to believe that hitting other people was wrong and that no man should ever raise his hands to a woman in violence or anger. Even if I do think Rice was wrong (and I certainly do) it's not my place to judge him, rather my focus is on how the media covers the incident.

There are many people who feel Rice got off with a slap on the wrist. During ESPN's live televised training camp coverage last week, a number of women who write for the Website (which provides analysis, coverage and commentary of women's sports) expressed views shared by many people that the NFL's disciplinary measures taken against Ray Rice were inadequate.

As many including Jon Stewart have noted, an NFL player will get a stiffer penalty for testing positive for smoking pot than he will for assaulting a woman. Just look at Cleveland Browns' wide receiver Josh Gordon who is facing a suspension for the entire 2014 season for testing positive for weed.

On Friday August 1st Kate Fagan posted a piece on entitled 'Roger Goodell Still Doesn't Get It'  that I think raises some pretty important issues and questions related to the severity of Rice's punishment and what level of responsibility the NFL has to take a more aggressive stance against domestic violence against women.

Fagan was pretty tough on the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell but as she pointed out in her article, while the NFL does hold break-out sessions for new players during annual it's rookie symposium that teach respect for self and others and why domestic abuse is wrong; for those players who are prone to domestic abuse, that behavior is already ingrained by the time they are 20 or 21 years old.

Should the NFL do more? As a former player to me the answer is yes. The NFL is highly influential when it comes to shaping the mindset of the millions of young boys and men who spend countless hours watching football games on television, being saturated by the TV,  digital and print advertising that surrounds it and being exposed to the off-the-field lives of the players.

As a piece by Marisa Guthrie in the July 25th issue of Hollywood Reporter points out, the NFL dominates professional sports in terms of television deals. The League takes in $6 billion a year in broadcast revenue from ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC, Direct TV and digital broadcast deals with Verizon and Microsoft; it also takes in $1.07 billion from ad revenue.

All those numbers mean the NFL has almost unmatched exposure to the young boys whose minds
could be shaped to understand that domestic violence is wrong. But that being said, I can't help but look back at all the coverage and commentary surrounding outrage over Rice not facing more serious charges for assaulting his wife and wonder why I don't see more media commentary and outrage over how the NRA's top lawyer got off for murdering his then-girlfriend's mother.

To be perfectly frank, on television I see a lot of white female reporters and writers justifiably expressing indignation over the behavior of African-American men like Ray Rice, or back in May of this year, the Carolina Panthers' defensive end Greg Hardy who faced two misdemeanors for domestic violence against his girlfriend of eight months. 

But what about Robert Dowlut? This is a man who as the NRA's top legal gun has been responsible for opposing bans on handguns in violence-plagued cities like Chicago and Washington, DC where simply banning people from owning handguns could save a lot of lives and injuries. Just ask the 82 people shot in Chicago over an 84 hour period over the July 4th holiday.

Isn't 82 people being shot considered domestic violence? If we look at Ray Rice and Robert Dowlut side by side, who do you think has had a bigger impact on domestic violence in America?

A black 27 year-old football player who hit his wife in a casino while they were both drunk?

Or a white NRA lawyer who went to his former girlfriend's mother's home back on the night of April 15, 1963 and shot her at close range (once in the chest and twice in the back as she tried to get away) with a Webley Mark VI .45 caliber handgun, was tried and convicted, got out of prison on a technicality then spent most of his 68 years helping the NRA to oppose reasonable laws banning handguns? 

As Dave Gilson's recent well-researched article on points out, Anna Marie Yocum was a 36 year-old waitress and single mother of a 16 year-old daughter when she was shot and murdered by Robert Dowlut in her small South Bend, Indiana apartment - just after he'd shot and wounded a pawnshop employee during a robbery.

Shooting and killing your girlfriend's mother because you don't like her qualifies as domestic violence in my book, I certainly haven't seen a flood of live TV coverage from indignant reporters showing up at NRA headquarters or in front of Robert Dowlut's house. The op-eds on Ray Rice are still coming though, even though his wife Janay Palmer is alive and well, she filed no charges against him and Rice has committed to speaking out against domestic violence in the future.

Did all these reporters who are justifiably outraged over domestic abuse miss the Robert Dowlut story? Or does a young African-American professional athlete who hit his wife simply make an easier target than a respected wealthy white NRA lawyer who shot a woman and got away with murder?

Domestic violence is wrong regardless of the color or race of the perpetrator or victim - it'd be nice to see the media be colorblind about the level of their indignation, whoever committed the crime.

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