Dick Polman, 9/11/2014 [Archive]

Clueless Pundits Cluck About Domestic Violence

By Dick Polman

If there's any institution arguably more noxious than the National Football League, it has to be Fox News. Where else can you see clueless blowhards laugh it up about wife-beating?

In case you've been living under a rock, that's the video - released Monday by TMZ - where entitled pigskin jock Ray Rice cold-cocks his lady and drags her limp body like she's a sack of cement.

After airing the video, the Fox and Friends gang got giddy. Host Brian Kilmeade promptly insinuated that if Rice was gonna punch her out, he should've done it in private; in Kilmeade's words, "I think the message is, take the stairs." His couch pal, Steve Doocy, duly chimed in, "The message is, when you're in an elevator, there's a camera."

This being the year 2014, I would've thought that the message was: Don't hit women. After all, domestic violence isn't exactly a new issue; these days, we're talking about 42 million women. Heck, I wrote extensively about this issue back in the late 1980s. But, then again, lest we forget, Fox News is situated somewhere in the 1950s.

Which explains why Doocy sought to minimize Rice's assault by focusing on the assault victim, Janay Palmer: "We should also point out that after that video...she still married him." Ah yes, the Why Don't Women Leave? theme. Also known as, Blaming the Victim. Rush Limbaugh, on his radio show, hit that one hard: "Why did she marry the guy, right?...Nobody can figure that out. So chomp on that."

Actually, anyone in this day and age with half a clue can figure it out. The anecdotes are abundant on the new Twitter hashtag, #whyistayed. Sometimes it's simply for religious reasons. I once interviewed a woman named Charlotte Fedders, whose abusive husband, John Fedders, was a top 1980s guy at the Securities and Exchange Commission. When I asked why she stayed, she replied: "The church told me divorce was a sin. I heeded St. Paul's admonition, 'You who are wives, be submissive to your husbands, this is your duty in the Lord.'"

But many women stay with their abusers for dozens of reasons. The research on that has long been copious. For instance, they're often financially dependent (like Janay Palmer); they often have kids and are therefore reluctant to send the father to jail (Rice and Palmer have a daughter); they often have low self-esteem; they often fear that the violence will dangerously escalate if they go. Especially the latter reason. Studies as far back as 1989 show that abused women are 75 percent more likely to be murdered if they try to leave.

I've seen the fear first-hand. Back in the winter of 1987 - 12:40 in the morning, in a Philadelphia emergency room - there was woman named Martha, sprawled on a gurney with a stab wound from her guy. After I spoke with her, a cop came up and warned her that the abuse might be worse next time. She agreed, but said, "What do you do with somebody you can't get rid of?" The cop replied, "Arrest him." But she said, "Can't do that, I'm too scared for that. And I don't want to see him in jail."

The assistant district attorney who ran the city's domestic violence unit told me, "It's easy for us to forget the pressure that (the women) are under, economically or emotionally, or both, to keep families together. People use it as an excuse not to take cases seriously."

Not that it's any surprise that a sport saturated in violence, a sport that markets violence as its bread-and-circus calling card, would indulge a player who's violent off the field. The commissioner has said that his first priority is to "protect the shield" - the NFL brand - and thus keep the billions rolling in. Hence his initial decision to slap Rice's wrist. He wanted to give Rice every opportunity to get back out there and risk the kind of concussions that lead to long-term brain damage - which the NFL worked so long to cover up.

Maybe the Ray Rice case will help enlighten more people about domestic violence - about the frequent power imbalance between men and women - but it's nuts that we pay mass attention only when some ball-toting jock gets caught. There are millions of Janay Palmers out there, and, just for starters, the right-wing talking heads could show them respect by getting a clue.

——-

Copyright 2014 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a "Writer in Residence" at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.

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