Professional Athletes and Violence Against Women
A personal reflection on the allegations against Indiana Pacer Lance Stephenson
Lance Stephenson is a New York native, attending the same high school as Sebastian Telfair and Steph Marbury. He was a decorated high school athlete, winning numerous accolades and awards. By every measurement , his future was and still is bright. He even starred alongside the Blazers’ own Jerryd Bayless in Gunnin’ For That Number 1 Spot.
During those years one could argue that “culture issues” - as we in Portland have come to understand that phrase- began to arise. He got in a bit of trouble and was accused of groping a girl at school. The details of that incident are hard to find, I don’t consider that a coincidence.
Now Stephenson is an Indiana Pacer, a high risk rookie and who , if everything were to work out, was considered by many to be a steal. His troubles suck for the team , and really suck for those who worked so hard to get the guy, because he’s talented on the court . But nothing , of course , is as important as the injuries, both internally and externally , of the victim.
The “alleged” actions are the most detrimental for his “alleged” victim, but in our culture, in the sports universe- an inherently sexist world that mostly uses women shamelessly- the victim of an “alleged” domestic violence incident doesn’t even cause a shred of concern.
What matters to me is not what his career will be like. His career isn’t in jeopardy because lawyers, the team and the league will deal with this “issue” and it will soon be such an afterthought, most of you won’t even remember Lance’s transgression in two days.
But I will. Let me describe to you what “allegedly” happened that lead to Stephenson’s troubles. Per the Huffingtonpost, which cites prosecutors:
Authorities say the confrontation occurred around 5 a.m. Sunday when the woman, Jasmine Williams, was returning home to her apartment building with two friends. Witnesses said Stephenson was waiting for her and yelled, "Are you kidding me?" before pushing her down the stairs. A criminal complaint provided Monday by the Brooklyn district attorney's office said that as Williams lay at the bottom of the stairs, Stephenson picked up her head and slammed it on the bottom step.
Because kicking her down the stairs wasn’t enough . He had to make a point, by shoving her head violently into the wall and screaming at her. The uncontrolled rage, the complete disregard for her life, and endangerment of her person , his person, as well as any potential bystanders , shows a guy who has complete disregard for pretty much any and everything. From the “allegations” , all that mattered to him at that moment, was to demolish physically ,mentally and emotionally, the woman who is the mother of his kid.
It is an “allegedly” classic display of domestic violence- a situation that occurs to over 1 of 4 women in this country. What is also classic is the generic response, or no response, from the NBA , the media, and many in the sports world .
In the remainder of the Huffingtonpost story , all of the annoying and really predictable statements are reported: Ebanks (Lawyer of Stephenson) calls the charges against his client "very serious," adding: "Everyone, especially Lance, regrets that this incident occurred. We look forward to addressing these charges in the appropriate venues.", and the requisite comment from Larry Bird: “we’ll wait for all facts to come to light” . Most comments have been about how this will affect, or not affect, his career. No comments are about whether his “alleged” victim is still in a neck brace or if she’s been released from the hospital. It is almost as if not one word can be uttered about his “alleged” victim, for fear of tarnishing his budding career.
There are a lot of reasons for this, first being that the case is still in the “alleged” stage, meaning he’s “innocent until proven guilty”. Sadly this never helps in a case of domestic violence , because by the time a victim actually gets to court (if she’s ‘lucky’ enough to be hit by someone famous , or has money to hire an attorney, or is strong enough at that moment to actually file a case against her attacker) there has been so much time for reconciliation and more commonly, victim blaming , that the damage has already been done to the victim and no amount of jail time, fees or classes for abusers are going to change anything for all parties involved.
And the public most certainly won’t be convinced or concerned for her plight. In fact, much to the chagrin of people such as myself, the victim in the Lance Stephenson incident has been for the most part nameless and faceless. To many, she’s just another distraction to a team trying not to suck during the 2011 NBA season. It is the second part of this tragedy , and why I’m writing about the story today.
There is another , more sordid, reason Stephenson’s story has garnered such little attention. Domestic violence is so prevalent in our society, that it is almost subconsciously disregarded as unimportant- the public /private split relegates violence to the family(private home) - meaning most people still perceive violence against women to be “personal matters” that shouldn’t be dealt with in public.
No one wants to admit that it is an endemic issue in our society , but the truth is, with statistics showing one of four women having experienced intimate partner abuse during their lifetime and “In a single day in 2008, 16,458 children were living in a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing facility. Another 6,430 children sought services at a non-residential program” , there is no denying how much of an issue domestic violence has become. (Link)
What is more, an old stereotype prevails about black men, originating from the days of slavery , that they are violent by nature and can’t be fully “harnessed”. This is not true of course, but it is part of the reason why when a black man shoves a woman down the stairs, it isn’t as newsworthy as if he were white. (Collins)
All of this contributes to the reason why no one cares about the victim, why Lance Stephenson will be essentially protected and coddled by the media and NBA , and he’ll go on to have decent career . (Maybe he won’t, we don’t actually know, but based on talent , he’s got a shot at a decent career.) And his girlfriend is still another random statistic to all of us, the reason (maybe) for putting Stephenson’s career in jeopardy , and root cause of his troubles.
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