Although three days of paternity leave has been a part of Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement since 2011, it continues to be hotly debated. When the New York Mets' Daniel Murphy missed the first two games of the 2014 season to attend his son's birth, radio host Boomer Esiason complained that Murphy should have encouraged his wife to schedule a C-section to avoid missing opening day. Public outrage of Esiason's comments were swift and overwhelming, signaling cultural changes in what is means to be a good man. When the Kansas City Royals reached the playoffs last season, speculation mounted about what the team would do if their star second baseman, Ben Zobrist, left the team to witness the birth of his child. The reporting centered around how the team would handle the absence, not whether or not Zobrist should leave to be with his family (although Zobrist's wife joked that he better at least hit a home run if he missed the birth, implying there was still a choice to be made). Getting new fathers, baseball players or not, to make use of paternity leave is challenging even when the time away is paid.
While this family imagery is seductive, it presents an incomplete narrative. One headline declared: "Adam LaRoche retires from baseball, saves co-workers from child." These kinds of critiques center around LaRoche's perceived right to bring his child to work (story still developing -- it may have been in his contract). It's unlikely most mothers would even ask for this workplace accommodation. Unlike the fatherhood premium (where men experience an increase in pay and admiration when they are active parents), simply being a mother is associated with gender bias in the workplace. Thus, mothers often go to great lengths to obscure their role as parents and asking to bring their child to work seems unimaginable. When mothers do bring their children to work, they are often met with hostility and accusations of being unprofessional.
“I don't think he should be here 100 percent of the time—and he has been here 100 percent, every day, in the clubhouse. I said that I don't even think he should be here 50 percent of the time. Figure it out, somewhere in between,” Williams said. “We all think his kid is a great young man. I just felt it should not be every day, that's all. You tell me, where in this country can you bring your child to work every day?”
Besides this gendered double standard and concern about irritating one's coworkers by forcing them to interact with your children, a number of other considerations emerge. Mostly ignored in the coverage is the fact that LaRoche also has a daughter. She, however, is not granted the privilege of following her dad around all day because she's not allowed in the team locker room. The principled stance about spending as much time with your child as possible seems a little less principled when it doesn't apply equally to all children. Also concerning is the commitment to the children's education. The entire family travels with LaRoche, made possible by his wife, Jenn. Apparently the family has an agreement with a school in Kansas to take homework with them when traveling. The school sees no problem with this, so long as the children can continue to pass standardized tests. Realistically, it probably won't matter if his kids don't get a quality education -- rich kids usually stay rich. But is this policy sustainable? Can all major league players with young children bring their child to the ballpark with them everyday? Not likely in baseball, and certainly unlikely for working parents elsewhere.
LaRoche argued that leaving baseball came down to a decision about what is best for his children. Research suggests the expected increases in child well-being from time spent with mothers (and probably fathers) seems to matter less than social status factors. Thus, earning that $13 million might have been the better way to go.
What might help parents spend quality time with their children while also being able to earn a livable wage? Quality, affordable childcare. In LaRoache's case (and maybe MLB in general), the childcare doesn't necessarily need to be affordable (hello?! $13 million!), but provided onsite.
The last two years have brought renewed attention to the social problem of domestic violence. Controversy erupted in 2014 when video of National Football League (NFL) player Ray Rice violently punched his fiancé (now wife) and dragged her unconscious body from an elevator. Most recently, Deadspin.com released graphic images of the injuries NFL player Greg Hardy inflicted on his ex-girlfriend. In both instances, NFL officials insisted that if they had seen the visual evidence of the crime, they would have implemented harsher consequences from the onset. After both of these incidents, some have asked why images of these men’s violence were a necessary prerequisite to public outrage. It’s a good question.
Why are violent images so much more compelling than other evidence of men’s violence against women? A partial answer is found by looking at whose story is privileged and whose account is discounted. The power of celebrity and masculinity reinforces a collective desire to disbelieve the very real violence women experience at the hands of men, especially of men we revere. This month we witnessed 13 Black women collectively share their story of being raped and sexually assaulted by a White police officer, Daniel Holtzclaw, in Oklahoma. Without the combined bravery of the victims, it is unlikely any one woman would have been able to get justice. A similar unfolding happened with Bill Cosby. The first victims to speak out against Cosby were dismissed and treated with suspicion. The same biases that interfere with effectively responding to rape and sexual assault hold true for domestic violence interventions.
Another part of the puzzle of understanding our varied responses to domestic violence is found in the way domestic violence is portrayed. The language we use matters to how we perceive and make sense of social issues. Anti-sexist male activist Jackson Katz points out that labeling victims of sexual crimes “accusers” reverses public support for alleged victims to alleged perpetrators. The media’s common use of a passive voice when reporting on domestic violence inaccurately emphasizes a shared responsibility of the perpetrator and victim for the abuser’s violence and generally leaves readers with an inaccurate perception that domestic violence isn’t a gendered social problem. Visual evidence of women’s injuries at the hands of men is a powerful antidote to this misrepresentation.
In my own research, forthcoming in Sociological Spectrum, I found that the race of perpetrators also matters to who is seen as accountable for their violence. I analyzed 330 news articles about 66 male celebrities in the headlines for committing domestic violence. Articles about Black celebrities included criminal imagery – mentioning the perpetrator was arrested, listing the charges, citing law enforcement and so on – 3 times more often than articles about White celebrities. White celebrities benefited further by their violence being excused and justified 2½ times more often than Black celebrities’ domestic violence. For example, White celebrities violence was more likely to be described as a mutual escalation or explained away due to mitigating circumstances, such as inebriation.
Data from an analysis of 330 articles about 66 Black and White male celebrities who made headlines for perpetrating domestic violence (2009 – 2012).
Accordingly, visual imagery of Ray and Hardy’s violence upholds common stereotypes of Black men as violent criminals. Similarly, White celebrity abusers, such as Charlie Sheen, remain unmarked as a source of a social problem. It’s telling that the public outcry to take domestic violence seriously has been centered around the NFL, a sport in which two-thirds of the players are African American. The spotlight on Black male professional athletes’ violence against women draws on racist imagery of Black men as criminals. Notably, although domestic violence arrests account for nearly half of NFL players’ arrests for violent crimes, players have lower arrest rates for domestic violence compared to national averages for men in a similar age range.
If the NFL is going to take meaningful action to reducing men’s violence against women, not just protect its own image, the league will have to do more than take action only in instances in which visual evidence of a crime is available. Moreover, race can’t be separated from gender in their efforts.
Last year, to kick off Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), I looked at google trends in searches of domestic violence, breast cancer, and Chris Brown. This year, I thought I'd take a look at domestic violence, breast cancer, and the NFL. I wondered if there was a jump in domestic violence (DV) searches, given all of the talk about DV this last month. Sure enough, there was a big spike in interest in September.
Was it enough to make a dent in the large gap in interest between domestic violence and breast cancer? Turns out, yes! I limited the search time to the last 90 days and there is a significant spike in googling domestic violence in September compared to the previous two months. In fact, on September 8th, the day TMZ published video of Ray Rice punching his then fiancée in an elevator, more people searched for domestic violence than breast cancer. While that particular day is an outlier, web searches for domestic violence have remained higher than before the video was released. As October approaches, renewed interest in breast cancer is also apparent.
So, how does this all compare to interest in football? Not so well. The National Football League (NFL) is substantially more interesting to internet users than either domestic violence, breast cancer, or even Chris Brown.
The NFL has a real opportunity to bring some much needed public consciousness to the social problem of domestic violence. The NFL is still planning to "go pink" for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but this year they announced they will air domestic violence public service announcements during games. The National Network to End Domestic Violence is also leading a campaign to ask the NFL to wear purple (color of DV awareness). Whatever strategy is implemented, it would be great to generate awareness of domestic violence without needing a video of a football player punching his partner unconscious to get a conversation started.
For more information on domestic violence awareness, follow #DVAM on Twitter all month.
I thought it might be helpful to post a reference list of some sociological research on domestic violence as it relates to race, gender, and popular culture.
Don't forget to check out my corresponding blog post for some further detail.
Additionally, the verdict in the trial of double-amputee track star Oscar Pistorius, who murdered girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013, should be announced by the end of the week.
The volume of victim-blaming sentiments expressed in reaction to the video of Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancée, Janay Rice, is not surprising. The question of why she subsequently married Rice, or more generally why victims of domestic violence stay with their abusive partners, is arguably the most common question asked by both well-meaning allies and men who deny the frequency and severity of men's violence against women (in the latter case, usually followed by statements that men are victims too, erasing the impact of men's violence). Fox News anchors' defense of Ray Rice and the minimization of his violence was easily anticipated. Largely, rather than ignorant curiosity, the tone of media stories and online comments has consisted of statements of judgment toward Janay Rice. I'm not sure the intent of the asker makes a difference. The answer is widely available with a two-second Google search. Or, starting yesterday, on Twitter.
What I found astonishing and disheartening was how widespread victim-blaming reactions were – even by people whom I thought would know more about the power and control dynamics present in an abusive relationship. Janay’s actions have been dissected to determine whether she struck Rice first, spat at him, was yelling and/or using profanity, or was inebriated at the time. Some of the same people who condemned the New York Times for characterizing Michael Brown (killed by Ferguson, MO police) as "no angel" are quick to question Janay Rice's actions in the moments before Ray Rice struck her unconscious. Damon Young, writer for Ebony.com, pointed out these contradictions better than I ever could:
I wonder if they realize saying “She might have hit him first” is no different than saying “Well, Michael Brown might have been high.” I wonder if they know that thinking this is all just a plot to disgrace Black men is the exact same thing as thinking George Zimmerman was just persecuted by overzealous race-baiters. I wonder if they’ve grasped that their unblinking support of Rice, even in the face of overwhelming visual evidence, makes them spiritual twins with the Staten Island teachers wearing t-shirts in support of the precinct that has seen two unarmed Black men die at their hands in the last year. I wonder if they realize arguing it was a fair fight between Janay Palmer and Ray Rice -- who, along with being a professional football player, is a trained boxer -- is as stupid as arguing Michael Brown was “armed” because he was 6’4 and 300 pounds.
As with the intense scrutiny of Brown's actions and character, the attacks and examination of Janay Rice miss the point. Just as the mass incarceration of Black men evidences systemic racism in our society, men's violence against women is a social problem much larger than whatever happened in that particular elevator. The intuitive reaction to protect a Black man from being maligned in the national media as a monster is well-founded. My (not yet published) research reveals systemic differences in online news articles about White and Black male celebrities who perpetrate domestic violence. We also know that Black perpetrators of violence face greater sanctions than White abusers. The defense of Black men at the expense of (Black) women who are victims of domestic violence is a trap of simplicity which obscures the reality of the intersectional nature of oppression.
In order to be heard, survivors have been vocal on Twitter this week using the hashtag #WhyIStayed. Their collective reaction to build community and fashion whatever megaphone they can in order to be heard is critically important. It educates well-meaning individuals about the complexity of domestic violence (although, I doubt it does anything to silence those deeply committed to misogynistic ideology). It brings survivors' reality out of the shadows -- to quote Vice President Joe Biden, reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act: "The only way to change this culture was to expose it . . . the best disinfectant is sunlight." Yet, this is still a defensive action, a response meant to justify women's actions and their agency to survive.
Real progress would be evidenced by a national conversation about how we are all part of the problem that perpetuates men's violence against women. We are part of the problem when we lose sight of the bigger picture and narrowly focus on a snapshot in time of two people in an elevator. We are part of the problem when we don't challenge friends' Facebook posts that judge Janay Rice for wanting the violence against her to stop but not her relationship. We are part of the problem when we're quick to judge survivors' actions. We are part of the problem when we argue violence against women is a problem within the NFL and ignore the larger scale of the social issue. We are part of the problem when we demand a one-size-fits-all solution. We are part of the problem when we opt to stay silent when a colleague uses fancy language to repeatedly make victim-blaming statements. We are part of the problem when we promote marriage as a solution to men’s violence against women. We are part of the problem when we call for strong criminal sanctions without listening to what survivors of domestic violence need and want. Continuous rehashing of the video, especially without moving to constructive solutions, is part of the problem.
Alternatively, we are part of the solution when we donate to victim advocacy groups. We are part of the solution when we ask friends about their relationships and truly listen. We are part of the solution when we advocate for policies that support survivors of domestic violence. We are part of the solution when we demand funding for research that identifies and evaluates prevention strategies. Real progress on this issue would be meaningful societal action to work to prevent men's violence against women and pervasive efforts to be part of the solution.