As I sat down to write a few words about the Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson domestic violence arrests, I couldn’t. For once, it wasn’t writer’s block that inhibited the flow of words. No, this time I couldn’t write because my eyes and heart were completely fixated on Baltimore, Maryland and the rage that streamed across my television screen. As I jumped from the TV to Facebook and back again, I thoroughly read and listened others’ views (and even briefly shared my own) on the protests and riots that overtook various parts of the city. While I mulled over the reasons for the violence and people’s reactions, I was taken back to my first summer in law school. As a law fellow at the NAACP headquarters, I got to experience first-hand the two Baltimores: the city of Johns Hopkins, the Harbor, and the Orioles; and the other city (you know the one fairly accurately depicted in the Wire), a place filled with poverty, oppression and crime. I was in the middle of thinking about how the other Baltimore was being condemned and vilified by so many when it hit me. Throughout most of this country (and especially within mainstream media), just like there are two Baltimores, there are two standards for violence. What’s celebrated or given a mere passing glance within some groups is condemned and written off as barbaric for others. After I had that mini-epiphany, I had this one: The world of sports is no different.
In March when the Dallas Cowboys signed Greg Hardy to a one year contract worth as much as $13.1 million, the media and the general public had no problem expressing their disgust with the organization for aligning itself with someone who they believed had physically abused a woman. When the public and the media learned that Adrian Peterson had been accused of abusing his child, they called for his job, his endorsements and his freedom…all in the name of taking a stand against domestic violence. The tone is very different, however, when female athletes become involved in domestic disputes that turn violent. When Hope Solo was arrested for domestic violence involving her sister and nephew, the conversation was void of protests and sound bites from No More, and Solo suffered no real consequences. When we learned of Griner and Johnson’s arrests, reports sprung up about the complexity of domestic violence within the LBGT community and many questioned if the WNBA’s code of conduct would even be an issue. Where was the clear demarcation against domestic violence? And lest we think this is just a gender issue, the country is about to tune in while Floyd Mayweather, a convicted abuser, fights to make up to $180 million in his bout against Manny Pacquiao this weekend. His history of abusing and threatening women is not in question; yet he continues to be celebrated throughout this country for his talent and wealth. Apparently, some people just get a pass.
The mixed reactions to violence among athletes are the same mixed reactions that are being used by the media and public to characterize the riots in Baltimore. When the Boston Tea Party served as a catalyst to push the colonies towards the American Revolution, the participants were celebrated as pioneers and champions of freedom. When the United States bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the violence was condoned in the name of democracy. The protesters of the Arab Spring became the Time Person of Year. Police officers gun down unarmed people and it’s all protected in the name of law and order. But, the second that violence and unrest erupt in the poor streets of Baltimore in the name of Freddy Gray and as a result of poverty, oppression, fear, and anger; the protesters are characterized as thugs and animals, a disgrace to their race and country. Why the discrepancy?
The root of the mixed reactions can be pointed to a lot of things, namely, racism, sexism, classism, and capitalism, to name a few. But the fact of the matter is that violence, no matter who perpetuates it, no matter the justification, no matter the target, really is not ok. If we learned and promoted across the board that all human life had value, that the way to express opposing views is not through violence, that it is not acceptable to impose your will on others through force, then maybe we wouldn’t have to have these discussions about people rioting and looting. Maybe we wouldn’t have to have partnerships with the NFL and No More. Instead, these mixed reactions send clear messages to the world that violence for some is ok. If the mentality is that violence in some circumstances will be celebrated and acknowledged, then we’ll always have people who attempt to be a part of the group that has their violence justified. That only creates more violence. America’s history of violence, especially towards its Black citizens, is long and well-documented, and until America’s rhetoric and actions becomes one of nonviolence across the board, violence will continue.