Domestic Violence, Ownership of Women, and, Of Course, Jesus

Two professional football players. Two cases of domestic assault. Cedrick Wilson allegedly punched his former girlfriend and mother of his daughter; James Harrison allegedly slapped his girlfriend and mother of his son across the face. Wilson gets shit-canned; Harrison remains with the team—because he had a good reason, explains team chairman Dan Rooney:
"I know many are asking the question of [why] we released Wilson and Harrison we kept,'' he said. "The circumstances -- I know of the incidents, they are completely different. In fact, when I say we don't condone these things, we don't, but we do have to look at the circumstances that are involved with other players and things like that, so they're not all the same."

In Mr. Harrison's case, Mr. Rooney said the player was trying to take his son to be baptized.

"What Jimmy Harrison was doing and how the incident occurred, what he was trying to do was really well worth it," he said of Mr. Harrison's initial intent with his son. "He was doing something that was good, wanted to take his son to get baptized where he lived and things like that. She said she didn't want to do it."
Shaker "Fair and Balanced" Dave, who emailed me about this story, says, "[A]pparently if you're a professional football player, domestic abuse is OK if you do it for Jesus," and Vanessa at Feministing, who blogged the story over there, also notes the "good Christian" excuse. Quite obviously, that was part of the calculation when the Steelers organization considered "each incident … on a case-by-case basis," but what's also notable is that the man who was released from his contract assaulted his ex-girlfriend, while the man who was retained on the team assaulted his current girlfriend—and undoubtedly the still-pervasive attitude that domestic violence is "between a man and his woman" affected the decision. As long as she stays with him, as long as she's willing to suffer the abuse, that's "their" business.

The ex-girlfriend, by virtue of her "ex" status, no longer belonged to Wilson, so it's easy to see why his hitting her was wrong. But things are always muddier, somehow, when it's a current girlfriend or wife, which signifies our collective belief that men still have some ownership of women with whom they're in a relationship, and therefore have more right to do ugly things to them than men who don't have any claim over them. We mask that belief with mumbled questions about "why she stays if she doesn't like it," pathetically substituting the inevitably compromised agency of a battered woman for an objectively principled stand against domestic violence, as if that's remotely reasonable. Of course it is not—but justifications for situations like this are thin on the ground.

As well they should be.

Perhaps you'd like to politely email the Steelers or call their administrative offices at 412.432.7800 to let them know that condoning domestic violence for any reason is not acceptable.

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