DA: FSU Football Isn’t Asking the Right Questions

Florida State is dealing with a violence-against-women problem within its football walls, and one of the solutions is to ban these young men from bars. This is what we call treating the symptom, not the cause. Last week we saw video of quarterback De’Andre Johnson punching a woman in the face. Running back Dalvin Cook was charged with battery a few days later after allegedly striking a female multiple times.

Yes, both incidents happened in or around bars. But the question isn’t: Why are you drunk and getting into trouble? It’s: Why are you hitting women when you’re drunk and getting into trouble?

It’s a complex, convoluted situation. Over the past year we have been crushed by an avalanche of athletes acting out violently. But is this because it’s happening more frequently, or there’s simply more media paying attention to it?

We’ve had violence committed on wives, fiancees, girlfriends, and even nephews. Yes, U.S. Women’s World Cup star Hope Solo has challenged charges that she assaulted her teenage nephew during a drunken argument. Solo’s defended herself by saying her 6′ 8″, 270-pound nephew attacked and concussed her.

There’s no question domestic violence takes many forms, and Solo’s is no less serious. But the epidemic facing this country’s sports society isn’t littered with female athletes striking their nephews. It’s about males retaliating during confrontation by striking females. Ray Rice was screamed at by his fiancee in an elevator and then dropped her with a punch. Greg Hardy argued with his girlfriend, and then allegedly threw her on a bed of weapons, put his hands around her neck, and threatened to kill her. Ray McDonald violated his restraining order after allegedly assaulting his ex-fiancee while she was holding her infant child.

It’s a never-ending cascade of athletes aggressively dealing with women, and yes, most involve a night of drinking. But there’s plenty of guys who get loaded, and would never raise their hands, no matter how bad the situation, at a woman. All three incidents detailed above are NFL players. The two situations in Tallahassee surround the football team. The bulk of domestic violence in sports have been coming from football players. The NBA has had incidents, but not nearly as overwhelming as the NFL. MLB? NHL? Nascar? Milton Bradley, Slava Voynov, and Kurt Busch have been in the news for this. But they are the exceptions to the rule in their sports.

So is it alcohol? Or is it violent men in a violent game allowing that violence to spill over? Jimbo Fisher doesn’t need to ban his players from bars. FSU doesn’t need to just remove its players from confrontations. The university needs to ask those players, just like the NFL should, why the instinctual reaction is to fight a woman just as you would a man?

Maybe it’s because we see shaky cell phone videos on the news and YouTube of young women using violence themselves like the New York City McDonald’s melee. Maybe it’s the cartoonish physicality women use in regressive shows like “Real Housewives” or “Maury.” Some slack-jawed, crop-topped hillbilly walks on set, says he’s not sticking around because it’s not his kid, and Mary Lynn Sue starts taking wild swings at him as she’s held back by security.

Perhaps these young men have grown up viewing women as equals in physical confrontations. Has the attention on Rhonda Rousey’s brute force made a younger generation believe it’s now a fair fight? Has female progress and gender equality warped men into feeling women are on a level playing field in career, home and as sparring partners?

It’s interesting to note how Johnson’s defense has played out. Originally, his lawyer said he was instigated because the young woman called him a racial slur, kneed him in the groin, then took the first swing. In other words, she made me throw a right hook to her jaw! It reeked of ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith imploring women to be mindful of provoking violence last year. Apparently, this savvy legal team decided that wasn’t the best course. In an interview with ABC, Johnson reversed field, “There’s no explanation for that. I totally should have walked away. I’m sorry. If I could do it all over again, I would.” Yep, take the responsibility when there is no scholarship left. 

The old adage many of us men grew up with states you never put your hands on a woman. Doesn’t matter if you’re drunk, you’ve been screamed at, or kneed in the family jewels. It’s just not an acceptable response. Like throwing a haymaker at a 10-year old who just keyed your car, we cognitively understand this is not acceptable. But there seems to be a growing number of athletes who do not view these situations as equal. According to the police report, Cook was enraged after the woman pushed one of his teammates. He then puncher her, knocker her into a parked car, and continued swinging until he was restrained. One final blow knocked her to the ground.

In an interview with ESPN, the woman said, “They kept telling me they were football players. They kept telling me to Google them. They told me they were football players and they could buy me in two years.” Maybe these are entitled, protected, aggressive athletes who would knock out anyone. But when it comes to domestic violence, the superficial questions are how, where, and when. The only one that matters is why? Why is this the continued response?

D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.

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