Football Cannot Ignore Domestic Violence Issue

Date published: Monday 24th August 2015 1:17

Football Cannot Ignore Domestic Violence Issue

Those keen news hounds among you will have noticed that this weekend Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will be hitting each other in exchange for enormous bags of cash, and it seems the sporting world will be rapt.
Mayweather, as you may or may not already know is, to put things lightly, not a nice man. ‘Not a nice man’ to the tune of a record for domestic violence as long as your arm. As long as both your arms put together, in fact. Details of his various misdemeanours are here, but to save you some time he has spent time in jail for domestic violence, has two other suspended sentences to his name for similar offences and a long list of further accusations.
Up to this point it’s all been swept under the carpet to an extent, particularly by the boxing authorities. As those with a greater knowledge of the whole thing than Profile365 will tell you, that’s because boxing needs Mayweather. Fortunately, a corollary of the tremendously high profile nature of this fight is that more and more people are becoming aware of Mayweather’s attitudes and actions, and more and more is being written and spoken about them: here’s a short documentary produced by ESPN, a piece from by Melissa Jacobs in the Guardian and an interview with one of the women he’s been violent towards, the mother of three of his children Josie Harris, in USA Today.
Mayweather, despite his convictions and multiple other incidents, is continually granted a boxing license, which is indefensible but not especially surprising since he’s one of the few superstars left in the sport. When sport is given a choice between morality and profit, we all know which way it usually goes.
This doesn’t say anything good about the collective attitude of boxing to women, but obviously this is indicative of a wider problem, and another place it manifests itself is in football. Like boxing, many of these examples of violence towards women are almost ignored by those in the game, who often hide behind the notion that because an offender has been dealt with by the justice system, it’s therefore no longer their problem.
“Football clubs have a significant leadership role in their community and there is no excuse for ignorance where violence against women and girls is concerned,” says Polly Neate, CEO of charity Women’s Aid. “Many employers would not wish to re-employ a person convicted of acts of violence in a high-profile position, because of the potential reputational risk and the message it sends out to others. While we would always support the principle of rehabilitating offenders, and encouraging those who have served their time to reintegrate back into society, an important element of rehabilitation is remorse and taking responsibility, which has not happened in some of these situations.”
There are, of course, very many of these situations. You’ll all be familiar with the Ched Evans case, but it is worth repeating that among the debate around his case some entirely despicable attitudes surfaced, not least from those who forced the victim to change her identity multiple times. Of course there are then the fans who sang such charming ditties as “Ched Evans, he does what he wants” and “Women of Bradford, he’s coming for you.”
Something similar happened in Spain recently, when Real Betis forward Ruben Castro, who in December was charged with four counts of domestic violence and one of sending threatening text messages to his ex-partner, was given some rather vocal support by Betis fans. “Ruben Castro! Ruben Castro! It wasn’t your fault. She is a prostitute/whore/bitch (depending on which translation you go with), you did well” sang a section of the Betis support in a game against Ponferradina. The club condemned the fans, but have allowed Castro to play on as he awaits trial. Castro is Betis’s top-scorer this season, with 23 goals in 35 games.
In Scotland earlier this year, Ayreshire District League club Kilwinning Rangers allowed a player called Michael Hart to play a couple of games for them in the days between being bailed and sentenced to 14 months in jail. Hart, who according to the Daily Record ‘had a previous conviction involving domestic abuse in 2012’, admitted to threatening his wife, Naomi, and smashing up their house with a baseball bat. This was because he discovered that Naomi had been involved with their neighbour 20 years ago, and after initially refusing to leave he went next door and broke the ribs of said neighbour with said baseball bat.
As a grimly ironic postscript, Kilwinning had previously signed up to an anti-domestic violence initiative, but chose to pick Hart in two games after he admitted his guilt, before he was sent to prison.
And then of course there’s Marlon King, currently in jail for dangerous driving after putting a man in hospital following a crash he caused. In 2009, King was sent to prison for sexual assault, after he groped then broke the nose of a woman in a bar in Soho who had rejected his advances, which he denied despite multiple witnesses testifying against him. To Dave Whelan’s rare credit, he immediately sacked King from Wigan, but upon his release from prison he was signed by Coventry, and went on to play for Birmingham and Sheffield United.
We could go on. These tales serve as a reminder that, in amongst all the problems facing football, some reprehensible attitudes and actions towards women exist, and that they are often not taken particularly seriously. That’s without even considering the casual sexism and misogyny that underpins all of this.
Of course domestic violence isn’t just football’s problem. But just because it exists in wider society, it’s not an excuse for football to ignore it all, or absolve itself from blame.
Football can do something about it, though. Women’s Aid recently launched a campaign to encourage the football community to speak out against domestic violence, and released a short clip called ‘Unpunished’ to spearhead the campaign. “We wanted to connect the issue with football fans by creating a short film that looked at how we deal with violence on the pitch and violence in the home,” says Polly Neate. “We wanted to show how everyone has the human right to feel safe at home from violence, but this isn’t the case for many abused women. We have launched this film at the end of this season as we want clubs and fans to get in contact with us now and work with us to raise awareness for the new season.”
And get in contact you can, at FootballUnited.org.uk, where you can donate to the Women’s Aid campaign, as well as signing their supporters’ pledge to stand up against domestic violence.
“We want to break the silence around domestic abuse and violence against women more widely,” continues Neate. “We want to talk about the positive role models in football and work together to make a real difference.
“The campaign also aims to encourage the football community to call out the sexist behaviour that underpins violence against women and girls; an equal society, in which no man feels it is his right to abuse, means we can relegate domestic violence for good.”
Nick Miller

You can watch ‘Unpunished – Football United Against Domestic Violence’, and learn more about the campaign here

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