Professional sports’ domestic violence problem

I spent a good 10 years of my life in domestic violence court. First, as a public defender, representing (mostly) men accused of physical abuse of their wives, girlfriends, children, lovers. My attitude back then was flip: Who knows what really happened? It’s he-said/ she-said. If they’re of a similar size, let them fight. My feelings were ridiculous, arrogant, sexist, and wrong.

Years later, I came to work for an organization that represented women (and men) in need of orders of protection from their abusers. It was during this time, and later as a divorce attorney, when I became sickened at the way the civil and criminal justice system treats domestic violence victims. Unlike other crimes, where the victims are often supported (almost to a comical level) by victim advocates and other staffers there to make sure their stay in the criminal justice system is oh-so-warm-and-fuzzy, rape victims and domestic violence victims face suspicion right from the beginning. We’re not sure we believe you. We need hear his side of the story, first. After all, you could be lying. Women do that.

domestic-violenceI’ve defended drug dealers, murderers, drunk drivers, and worse, Never, EVER in the course of my legal career, did I see such an emphasis on “hearing the defendant’s side of the story.” When someone steals a car, do you think the entire criminal justice system gives him the benefit of the doubt? Waits to hear his side of the story? Hell no. They pound a confession out of the guy as soon as possible and toss him in the clink.

All of this makes the criminal justice system treacherous for domestic violence victims. No matter how severe their injuries (she could have done it to herself), no matter how strong their evidence (she could have gotten her friends to lie for her), they are always ALWAYS met with just enough suspicion, especially by other women (he probably cheated on her so she made it up. I would never do this). This has always befuddled me. Shouldn’t we all be on the same side on this one? I’ve come across women who abused their husbands over the course of my career, but never a woman who beat the living shit out her husband.  Despite what men’s rights advocates would like us to believe, domestic violence is very much a male-on-female crime.  Women are overwhelmingly the victims of domestic violence. This makes the misguided teens who still love Chris Brown and the women defending Avalanche goalkeeper Semyon Varlamov even more of a mystery to me.

Back when the Cubs first signed Milton Bradley, I raised holy hell about having an abuser on my beloved Cubs. “But he’s never been arrested for anything!” other fans yelled. “This is a personal matter! They’re still married!”  “He was never charged, so he must not have done it!” Five years later, Milton Bradley is serving three years in the California Penal system for serial domestic abuse. Why did I believe he really did abuse his wife from the start? Because, aside from treating it like every other crime and assuming the victim was telling the truth, the police report said her cell phone was destroyed. Abusers always take out the phones so victims can’t call for help.

So let’s take a look at how a typical domestic abuse situation goes down. Abusers generally get bolder as time goes on. By the time a woman (or man) is scared enough to call the police, it’s not the first time she’s been beaten by a long shot, and she’s usually in fear for her life. Before the police arrive, the abuser has a good 5-10 minutes to threaten the victim’s life, her children’s life, tell her she’s crazy, that no one will ever believe her, that the courts will take her children away, etc. etc.

By the time the police show up, the victim is already regretting her decision. After all, he’ll eventually be back, and he won’t be pleased that she called the police.  The abuser not being pleased usually does not end well for the victim. She might start minimizing her story now, or she may wait until she’s contacted by a prosecutor. But as soon as a victim realizes no one is going to lock this guy up and throw away the key, she panics. Often, abusers don’t allow their victims to work outside the home, so she’s also worried about how she (and her children) are going to survive without the abuser to bring home a paycheck.

Meanwhile, if the abuser actually spends some time in jail (as opposed to getting immediately released and told to stay away from the victim for 72-hours), he uses his one phone call from prison to call home, to threaten his victim, to tell her all the ways he’s going to punish her and the children when he gets home. Unless she makes this right.

By the time the wheels of justice are “rolling,” meaning the victim has a court date or the defendant has an arraignment, she’s realized that she’s completely on her own. No victim advocates have called her, no prosecutors are holding her hand and promising to put this guy where he can’t hurt her anymore, no cops are in the courtroom to make sure the abuser isn’t able to intimidate her any further. She’s out there alone. She cracks.  She recants. The charges are dropped, and the case is chalked up to just another woman who made up an abuse story because she was angry with her boyfriend.

BUT. There are two cases that make dropping the charges harder. One is when a woman has visible injuries or is injured so severely that she requires hospitalization. The other is when a victim is smart enough to take photos of her injuries. When a prosecutor actually gets a case where the victim’s injuries match the police report, it’s like Christmas morning. Because NOW the prosecutor has some physical evidence against the abuser. It’s no longer he-said, she-said. When I see that a victim’s injuries match up with what she told the police happened, I believe her. Before trial. Without hearing the abuser’s side of the story. Before the abuser has time to talk her out of pressing charges.

Domestic violence is a different kind of crime, and it requires a different kind of response from professional sports leagues and other employers. While I in no way suggest that accused abusers should be deprived of the presumption of innocence in their criminal cases, employers are free to discipline employees for things that are not even illegal, much less proven in a court of law. How often do we see athletes suspended for using drugs? For using a racial slur? For criticizing the communist leader of Cuba? If taken to a criminal court, a lot of these cases would never stand up. Yet teams are quick to distance themselves from the players’ actions because they don’t want to be associated with bad behavior.

Unless, of course, that bad behavior is beating the ever-loving shit out of your girlfriend. Then we have to wait for all the facts to come out. While we wait for the facts to come out, abusers make more threats, victims lose their nerve, financial settlements are arranged. The abuser suffers no consequences and is free to keep right on abusing.

I don’t know what the solution is, but it’s high time professional sports leagues treated domestic violence as a deadly serious problem (did I mention that Milton Bradley’s wife is now dead? The cause of her death has not been released to the public). And it’s pasts time that their fans demanded they do so.  Women make up roughly 45% of professional sports fans.  Every time a team takes the side of their athlete without considering the women’s side of the story, it’s a direct slap in the face to female fans. And women should treat it as such.Ozzie Guillen was suspended from the Miami Marlins because the Cuban community protested his statements and demanded he be held accountable. Where are the women who demand their sports teams be held accountable? Are we all just so twitterpated by pro athlete’s rugged good looks that we don’t care what they do in their spare time?

If so, shame on us. Shame on all of us.


8 thoughts on “Professional sports’ domestic violence problem

  1. rtish2008 says:

    Thank you for writing this article. I used to have the same flippant attitude you did. I did not comprehend WHY the victims did not leave. I mean–come on, pick up your shit and leave. Never look back. AND THEN, it happened. Before I realized it, I was in an abusive relationship. It started out the proverbial fairy tale and ended with him in jail (and now dead–’cuz Karma’s a bitch) and I walked away after 5 long years with barely my clothes on my back and on my children’s backs.

    It was a hard, difficult lesson to learn, but not only did my children and I survive, but now, we thrive. It opened my eyes to many things but especially to the lackadaisical attitudes of professional sports–especially the administration, management, and owners. I believe that with more women (the “right” women-aka mommas) in top positions of professional sports, there will be more accountability and a much better moral compass on the players’ parts and on the owners, etc, to uphold the integrity of the game and professional sports.

    1. juliedicaro says:

      So glad that you and your children are safe. Thanks for the kind words.

  2. sloanpeterson2 says:

    I think that some owners of sports team regard their players as components or cogs. They only care about producing a product/ providing an experience. The idea that their players can batter their spouses, or kids, is unpleasant in their minds. They will take actions to protect the organization..

  3. I an extremely disapointed that you state you believe that domestic violence is a man abusing a woman crime. Its a very offending and naive statement.
    As both a victim of DV and my younger brother a victim as well, I’m disapointed to hear to you say that. Men can be beaten by women too. Not only was my brother covered in bruises and scratch marks, but when he called the police for help, she lied and said he hit her and they both were arrested. HE was proven innocent, HE obtained a restraining order against her and HE was the victim of the crime.
    Women like her give dv victims a bad name. Its because of women like her that victims are constantly questioned and disrespected. And it’s attitudes like yours that keep men dv victims from speaking out. No one should ever lay a hand on another person, period. Reguardless of gender.
    I apologize that I did not read the rest of the article. And cannot comment on it.
    If you need proof that what I state is true, please email me at I’d be more than happy to show youu all court documents, so you can see men are victims too and deserve your respect.

    Thank you,
    Jordan Marie Watson

    I apologize for the typos, I’m writting this from a phone with my son asleep in my arms

    1. rtish2008 says:

      @Jordan: It is very true that men can also be DV or IPV (intimate partner violence) victims. The LGBT community also has DV. Unfortunately, women make up over 85% of DV victims. But that does not diminish the importance that NO ONE deserves to be a victim of abuse (and abuse is just not physical–it’s mental, emotional, and financial, too). Oftentimes, males do not report the abuse or violence because they are ashamed or don’t think anyone will believe them–esp when the female cries wolf. One reason the male victims may not be believed is because so many of the male abusers use the “I am the victim” story. He will use the story that the female did this to him or the female was the one who hit him (after being one inch from face–not touching her while telling her he is going to kill her so she will push him away and he can justify to the police officer that he is the victim). Abusers are narcissistic, manipulative pieces of crap.

      Thank you for sharing your brother’s story with us. It is a good reminder that men can be victims too.
      Here is my reference for the stat I gave you:
      “Women accounted for 85% of the victims of intimate partner violence, men for approximately 15%.” (Bureau of Justice Statistics Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001, February 2003)

  4. On Bradley’s wiki page, it says that part of his community service is coaching little league… I would snatch my kid off of any team he was involved with so fast. Are they serious? Why is this man coaching children?

  5. sloanpeterson2 says:

    I’m not feeling good about Milton doing the Little League service either. Most parents will not want their kid to be coached by him, and it opens up Little League to legal risk…

  6. Raythar says:

    Thank you for writing this. For all that is written about violations of game codes, team chemistry and any other sports issues that for the most part only affect the team, this is a very real issue that has to be discussed and addressed, especially due to the nature of DV.

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