Women can send message to violent athletes

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Women shouldn't count on men to combat the rash of domestic-abuse cases haunting high-profile, influential professional athletes. They shouldn't expect David Stern or Paul Tagliabue or Bud Selig to come up with a strong deterrent for domestic violence.

The commissioners can't control their millionaire players any better than the criminal court system can -- nor are they terribly interested in doing so.

This is an issue that's going to be closest to the hearts of women, and women almost certainly will find that they are going to have to lead the charge to fight this problem. They can do it -- and they should act quickly.

The arrests and accusations continue to pile up. Professional athletes keep getting in trouble for domestic squabbles that turn violent.

Allen Iverson, NBA star, allegedly threw his wife out of the house naked and then tried to hunt her down with a gun. Al Unser Jr., Indy racing champion, allegedly got physical with his girlfriend on a ride home from a strip club and kicked her out of the car.

Glenn Robinson, NBA small forward, allegedly pushed his former fiancee around. In the past two weeks, pro baseball and football players also have been accused and/or arrested for abusive behavior toward their wives or girlfriends.

An old problem

There's an obvious problem, and it's not new. And no one thinks this is the exclusive problem of male athletes. Men in all walks of life have struggled with the issue of domestic violence.

What is being debated, particularly among my female sportswriting colleagues, is what professional sports leagues can do to combat a problem that puts players at risk of incarceration and women at risk of injury, as well as damage the image of pro sports. We need to end that debate, because the leagues aren't the ones who will do it.

The men who run these leagues aren't that concerned with the victims of domestic abuse. This is America. We're a self-interested society. Tawanna Iverson isn't David Stern's concern. As commissioner of the NBA, his concern is Allen Iverson and Iverson's ability to attract fans to arenas and televisions.

Plus -- and I'm just being totally honest -- I think most men don't view domestic violence the way most women do. Men are more likely to see gray areas where a lot of women see the issue in black and white. Men see provocation as reasonable doubt. Men wonder who threw the first punch, who grabbed the first object and made a threat.

Nope. Women will be leaned on to spearhead this charge before others follow. And you know what? They have all the power they need to make an impact.

Women could do to Allen Iverson what no Pennsylvania court will ever do. No matter what happened between Iverson and his wife, he is going to escape serious criminal prosecution. Police don't have enough evidence, and Iverson's wife, like plenty of abused women, is sticking by her man.

The charges will only enhance Iverson's street rep, which in turn will make him more valuable as a Reebok pitchman. Reebok is making millions of dollars off Iverson's bad-boy image. Energized by Iverson's line of shoes, Reebok is actually gaining ground on Nike's Michael Jordan-induced stranglehold on the gym-shoe market.

What if female sportswriters -- who, based on my reading, are very upset about the deluge of domestic-violence arrests among athletes -- encouraged mothers, who have significant purchasing power, not to purchase Reebok shoes for their kids until Reebok dropped Iverson as its primary spokesman?

Iverson, regardless of the merit of the latest allegations, has proved to be a poor role model. Mothers could explain to their children why they won't purchase Reebok shoes. This would be a perfect opportunity for a parent to talk with a young boy about the scourge of domestic violence and why it's important to show a spouse or girlfriend respect.

Iverson would lose millions. And it would send a powerful message to Iverson's millionaire peers.

Jason Whitlock is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star.

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