Here we go again. How many times does it have to happen before it becomes unacceptable? How many chances does a person get before they become a lost cause? How much longer are we willing to sit and listen to the same storyline over and over again?
Football player. Accused of domestic violence. Accused of sexual assault. Caught on video slamming their fist through a woman’s face. Part of a police report that includes visible cuts and bruises on his partner and an account of the beating.
Charges dropped? Settlement reached? No problem. Welcome to the National Football League (NFL).
The 2017 NFL Draft saw at least half a dozen players with assault charges drafted by one of its 32 teams. In the post-Ray-Rice era, one would think the NFL would be overly careful and cautious when it comes to domestic violence. But based on this year’s draft, they either do not care about public perception, or they are not quite smart enough to figure it out. Let’s break it down.
Davon Godchaux. Domestic Battery. Child Endangerment. False Imprisonment. Charges dropped. Drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fifth round.
Dede Westbrook. Two domestic violence charges against the mother of his children. Charges dropped. Drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round.
Caleb Brantley. Seen on video striking a 5’6”, 120 pound woman in a bar. He is 6’3” and 300 pounds. Woman is knocked unconscious. He claims self-defense. Police determine the force he used was unreasonable and unnecessary. Case is still playing out. Drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the sixth round.
Jourdan Lewis. Domestic violence. Allegedly pushed his girlfriend before dragging her across the ground and choking her. Waiting to go to trial. Drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the third round.
Joe Mixon. Caught on tape slinging his fist into Amelia Molitor’s face. She broke her jaw and her cheekbone. He just reached a settlement with her in April of this year. Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the second round.
The Bengals are well-known for being a safe haven for players with a questionable past. Owner Mike Brown has conceded that he is “overly tolerant” at times. He is also known as “The Great Redeemer,” a name that can become a double-edged sword. While there have been success stories and players who have turned their life around, there have also been the Adam “Pacman” Joneses who cannot seem to stay out of trouble. Just look at this offseason. Brown and head coach Marvin Lewis deserve credit for the work they have done to shape lives for the better. That does not mean they need to take every troubled young man that is thrown onto the table. At some point it needs to stop.
We are not trying to say these men do not deserve second chances. Second chances are wonderful for those who use them correctly. Some of these men have never been proven guilty, and some have repented for their mistakes. We are not trying to demonize them more than they have already demonized themselves.
But the NFL needs to wake up. It has always had a problem with abuse within its ranks, mainly because it just does not care enough to change. But when men like the ones listed above continue to be drafted, and drafted with no shame, the message becomes even more clear. “Women do not matter. Winning does.” These men should not be able to skate by because they work in an industry that cares more about money and winning than it does about common human decency.
Almost worse than drafting these players is the statements general managers (GM), coaches and owners have made to defend them. In response to drafting Westbrook, Jaguars GM David Caldwell said: “I think we’ve all been accused of things, not all of us, but many of us have been accused of things.” Many of us probably have been accused of things. But many of us have not been accused of beating a woman multiple times.
Caldwell’s statement, as ridiculous and ignorant as it is, is one of the least offensive defenses of the players named above. And that is the scary part. The NFL is contributing to an age-old societal attitude that domestic abuse and rape are not important. That victims do not matter. That men get away with it because they can. That athletes get preferential treatment and face very few consequences. They can flaunt their new policies and abuse prevention promotions as much as they want, but until they let their actions follow their words, no change will come.
Do you want to win so badly you will support a team who supports a predator? Most people will say yes. That’s just the world we live in. But what does that say about us as viewers? It says that we are no better than the GM who made the congratulatory call. We are no better than the coach who stands proudly behind his little perpetrator during the introductory press conference.
It’s okay to cheer for the Bengals in the coming season. It’s okay to be willing to give Mixon and all of the other players above a second chance. But they are forcing us to ask ourselves ugly, uncomfortable questions. How far are we willing to go? How did we get to a point where we, as a city, became okay with Joe Mixon walking down our streets? Who’s to blame if something else happens? Who will carry the guilt for the next woman who goes down? Perhaps, however subconsciously, however unintentionally, we all will.