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What we are missing in the rush to punish NFL players

Educating Adrian Peterson might be better than banning him (Bruce Kluckhohn, USA Today Sports)

Educating Adrian Peterson might be better than banning him (Bruce Kluckhohn, USA Today Sports)

What is happening now in light of the Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson situations is a media outcry filled with justifiable anger. Even though the domestic abuse charge has yet to be made against 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald, the media, fans, and even California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome, are saying the 49ers should suspend McDonald from football activities until his case is resolved. Eleven former NFL players have also weighed in and said McDonald should sit out.

McDonald was arrested for felony domestic violence on the Sunday before the start of the regular season at 2:45 a.m. during a loud party at his San Jose home. The 49ers have allowed McDonald to play while the San Jose district attorney determines whether to press charges.
A security video in a casino elevator revealed Rice, a former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, striking his wife unconscious. After the public release of the video by TMZ.com, the Ravens released Rice and the National Football League banned him indefinitely.

Public photos emerged showing cuts on the thighs of Peterson’s four-year-old son, which purportedly were 17 days old. Peterson, a running back for the Vikings, allegedly struck his son with a switch and was deactivated indefinitely.

This media, and now political cacophony around these events has become so loud, it’s obscuring what’s most important and that’s those we should be most concerned with – Ray and Janay Rice, Adrian Peterson and his children, and McDonald and his fiancĂ©e, who is 14 weeks pregnant, and every other domestic assaulter and child abuser. What’s going to happen to them?

What we seem to want as media and fans is to make domestic violence and child abuse vanish in our professional sports so it doesn’t sully our enjoyment of our sports. Talk radio shows incessantly insist that they no longer want to talk about the issue. Instead, they want the perpetrators, whether they are guilty or not, to be “eradicated,” as one radio host put it.

The desire to watch and cover sports guilt-free becomes so overwhelming, the story shifts from perpetrators and victims of domestic violence and child abuse, to media and fan demands about what should be done, as if fans and the media know what’s best.

For some reason, fans and media hold on to the belief that team owners, league commissioners and head coaches can scrub the game clean of suspected and convicted criminals.

For example, the 49ers repeatedly say they have a “zero tolerance policy towards domestic abuse.” Complete intolerance suggests washing away the guilty and near-guilty from our consciousness.

By suspending, banning and eradicating, we accomplish the short-sighted goals of purging those who throw the shadow of guilt over the games we watch, and we get the satisfaction of realizing a resolution to our justifiable emotions.

But what happens to those we suspend, ban and eradicate? Does their cycle of violence end or become exacerbated?

Instead of suspending, banning and eradicating, wouldn’t it be better to be educating, preventing, and recovering?

Will banning Rice, Peterson and McDonald (if he’s guilty) prevent them from future domestic violence and child abuse? Will suspending and banning make them better people, better parents; will that make their relationships healthier?

Also, will a “zero tolerance policy” keep employees, whether NFL players or not, from perpetrating domestic assault and child abuse? Do you believe in the moment before Ray Rice struck his now-wife in a casino elevator, he was thinking about his NFL career? Or was he just thinking of striking Janay to satisfy his own anger?

How different are we when we demand suspensions and eradication, not knowing if that will actually help the situation?

Certainly there are those who are so emotionally damaged they can’t help but abuse others. For those unfortunates, incarceration, so they can no longer hurt the innocent, might be the only option. But what about those who can be helped?

Instead of a zero tolerance “policy” how about a full tolerance “policy” towards healthy relationships and good parenting? How about media and fans educating themselves about the best ways to bring Ray Rice, Peterson, and the 13 other current NFL players accused of domestic violence into better situations and frames of mind.

Kevin Lynch

Kevin Lynch is in his 27th season covering the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers and Bay Area sports. He also is a guest radio host and pregame 49ers host on KNBR-AM San Francisco - the flagship station for the 49ers, San Francisco Giants, and Stanford football and basketball. Working mainly for sfgate.com, the San Francisco Chronicle's web site, Lynch is expanding into sports' biggest questions and hottest debates such as - LBGTQ acceptance, athlete criminality, the ethics of performance-enhancing drugs, marijuana, locker room culture, sports and gender, sports and sex, sports and money, sports and race, sports and social change and many other issues. He has written editorials on LBGTQ resistance in sports for the Chronicle and has appeared on KQED radio, Comcast Sports Bay Area and ESPN's Outside the Lines to talk about a variety of sports topics. He completed a Master's in Sociology at San Jose State in 2015, which included a thesis on LBGtT Resistant Attitudes and Behaviors in Sports.

2 Comments

  1. Kevin, thank you for having the courage to speak truth and not acing into mobocracy like so many. Don’t know many perfect people, myself included.

  2. Punishment…what does it accomplish? It certainly does not challenge us as a society to confront the problem and find solutions. Thanks for your words.

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