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The NFL's Domestic Violence Double Standard

This post, written by Elizabeth G. Hines, originally appeared on The Huffington Post

You don't have to be a sports fan to be able to call a foul when you see one.

Case in point: for the last two weeks, you haven't had to be much of a sports lover at all to garner a great deal of information about Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, and his alleged involvement in a dog-fighting ring. All of the major networks and media outlets have picked this story up -- and rightly so. Pitting animals against one another to fight to the death is not only despicable, it is illegal -- and if there is any justice in this world, whoever was involved in that particular operation will face a substantial punishment for engaging in such stomach churning cruelty.

As a defender of animal rights, I applaud any opportunity to shine the spotlight on this kind of abuse. But as I listened the other night to yet another talking head wax apoplectic over the violence Vick is accused of committing, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, why none of these folks seem to pay quite so much attention, nor get quite so upset, when our sports icons happen to perpetrate violence against a particular group within their own species: women.

And when I say "these folks" I mean not just the media, but also, and just as problematically, the professional sports leagues that employ these athletes. The biggest question of the Vick case has arguably been whether he will be suspended from the NFL if the accusations against him can be substantiated. In this case, the wind seems to be blowing the direction of the affirmative. But look back to some not so distant history and you'll see plenty of evidence that when accusations are made against professional athletes that involve violence against women, leagues almost always turn a blind eye.

It was only last summer when Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers assaulted his wife in full view of onlookers, dragging her in the street by her hair and slapping her repeatedly. He was charged with assault and battery by a Boston court, but his employer, Major League Baseball, declined to level any punishment, saying, through a spokesman, "It was an off-field incident and it's the player's private life. We're going to let the legal system run its course." The league has no policy requiring suspension of players charged or convicted in domestic violence cases.

And then there's Jason Kidd of the New Jersey Nets, who in 2001 pleaded guilty to spousal abuse for hitting his now-estranged wife Joumana. His punishment by the NBA? None.

Same goes for the NFL's Warren Moon, now a Hall of Famer, who went to trial in 1996 for choking his wife during an argument. Games missed? As far as I can find, not a single one.

It doesn't take much analysis to figure out what this means about how seriously the major sports leagues take domestic violence and violence against women in general. Though they'll test their players till kingdom come for illegal substances, and kick them out of the league if they test positive enough times, apparently being charged with beating your wife -- and in some cases, being convicted of it -- just doesn't measure up.

It's not clear to me what it'll take for the guys (and yes, they are almost all guys -- perhaps that part of the problem) in the League offices to wake up to the fact that violence -- of any kind -- is neither a minor matter nor a "private" one. In fact, it degrades our culture -- not least of all by threatening, and often ending, the lives of women.

So yes, if he did it, nail Michael Vick to the wall for treating animals like trash. But let's also take a moment to remember, and stand up for, all of the women who get trashed by their husbands on Mondays, only to watch the League pat them on the back and start the game the next Sunday. As much as the dogs do, women deserve better.

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