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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND THE NFL

Earlier this week I represented a lady whose husband obtained an order of protection against her. Her husband said my client had assaulted him and that under the Arkansas domestic abuse law, he wanted the judge to remove her and her children from their marital home. Also on the court’s docket that morning were 8 other cases an Order of Protection had been asked for. As the bailiff called all of the cases scheduled for hearing, it looked like the we were in for a long morning. I knew each would take at least 30 minutes to hear. Of those eight cases that were set for a hearing, all of them except for our case was dismissed because no one showed up for court, or they asked the court to dismiss their petition for an order of protection. As it turned out, I was back at the office in less than an hour. He lost. Still, as the bailiff went through each and every case, dismissing one after the other, I got to thinking about what I’ve learned the past 32 years.

Back in 1980, when I worked for the local prosecuting attorney, the crime that is now called “Domestic Violence” was treated differently by the police, the prosecutor and the courts. Most abuse victims, which were mostly women, received little sympathy from those sworn to protect them. It was only when she was seriously injured, or worse, did the police, prosecutor and the courts do much about it.

Back then, when a husband slapped, hit, scratched, bit, his wife, or vice-versa, and if the police were called, the police officer could not make an arrest unless the officer witnessed the incident.  When an officer did witness the “illegal touching” often the abuse victim was given some half-heated advice to see the prosecutor and get a restraining order (not an arrest warrant) and file for divorce.  That was pretty much the same advise the abuse victim got when she came to the prosecutor’s office, the advice most often given was to go see a divorce lawyer.

It wasn’t that the police and prosecutors didn’t care about the victim.  It was that both had become cynical over the years with their experience with victims of domestic abuse. Reluctant to clog up the criminal justice system with “these types of cases,” because in the overwhelmingly majority of these cases, the victim would not come to court to prosecute and if she did, she wanted the charges dropped. The result was that before the arresting officer went home to get some sleep before his shift began, and before the prosecutor who used spare time to prepare for trial closed his case file, and before the judge moved to the next case on his crowded docket, you could hear said in unison, "Just what we expected." The costs added up to about $1000 a case - and that was in 1980 dollars - and the abuse victim would go back home to their abuser. Based on what I saw earlier this week that part hasn’t changed.

But in 1994 the world changed...at least the world of domestic violence and how abuse victims and the offenders were treated. What happed in 1994 was when former college football and NFL great, TV sports personality and everybody's hero, a guy named OJ Simpson, was charged with murdering his wife and another person.

Although OJ Simpson was not convicted of this double homicide, the legacy left behind by this terrible crime was the public’s awareness of, and something battered wife advocacy groups could use to further their cause, for victims of domestic violence do.  OJ’s legacy was a better understanding why and how abuse victims behave and most importantly, how they are treated by the criminal justice system.

This was because the abuse by OJ Simpson inflicted on his wife before she was murdered is was typical of abuse victims across the nation were treated and how they behaved. Before her death, there were several incidents of domestic abuse in the Simpson home, but only when Simpson put his then former wife in the hospital was he fully prosecuted and then he was given 2 years probation and community service. At that time, his then employer, NBC Sports kept him in their employment and outside of Los Angeles County, nothing was said about OJ Simpson’s history as a wife-beater. Then, four and half years later, Nicole Simpson was stabbed so many times that she was almost decapitated.

After OJ Simpson was acquitted of this double homicide, and as a result of what the public perceived was a criminal justice system that did not offer any protection to Nicole Simpson, there was a flurry of legislation that addressed this matter. First there were laws passed in the state legislatures, and laws that were passed by the U.S. Congress. These laws were designed to prohibit any chance of dismissive treatment of the abuse victim received from the police/prosecutor/court, but also protected abuse victims from themselves.

No longer were the police given the option of whether or not to place an abuser under arrest; no longer did an abuse victim have to live with the abuser until the case was decided in court, and when the abuse victim wanted charges dropped, an appearance before the judge was required and that intimidation factor usually resulted in the case being tried. For the past 20 years, although nothing tells me that incidents of domestic violence have gone down, the penalty the abuser pays is much more significant.

In Arkansas, there are several specific criminal offenses specifically dealing with domestic abuse and there are laws requiring the courts to hear petitions for orders of protection. The laws passed that permit the police to arrest an alleged abuser for causing injury that would be a misdemeanor even when the injury did not occur in their presence. In 1994, the U.S. Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act, later amended in 2013, and has also added to the list of persons who are prohibited from being in possession of a firearm. There has not been, at least to my knowledge, a law passed making the victim of an alleged abuse prosecute the abuser.

But now there is a new trend that worries me. It worries me because I don’t know how far the law and society is willing to go to punish an alleged abuser.  And like what happened 20 years ago,  it again involves a player in the National Football League.

Ray Rice is one of several professional football players who have recently been accused of abusing their wife or girlfriend.  In Ray Rice’s case, there isn’t much room for the word “accused” as it used to be said, “Roll the Tape.”

Although Ray Rice will never be the football hero and TV sports personality that OJ Simpson was, unlike what happened to OJ over 20 years, when he pled to putting his wife in the hospital, NBC did not fire him.  They issued a press release.

However, in Ray Rice’s case, his private employer, the Baltimore Ravens have fired him. At least for now, Ray Rice isn’t going to give an opportunity for counseling, he is going to lose his ability to make a living.

I do not know how far the rest of the private sector will mimic what the NFL has done, i.e., terminate the employment of a not-yet convicted domestic abuser, but I worry, is that maybe there’s a better way to permanently end a man’s career.