The owner of the New York Giants admitted Thursday that the team re-signed a player who they knew had abused his wife, reigniting a conversation about how seriously — or not — domestic abuse is taken by the NFL.
The documents include Brown’s wife’s allegation that in 2014, Brown “pushed her into a large mirror in their bedroom and then threw her on the floor and jumped on top of her, holding her face down into the carpet.” They also include Brown’s journal entries and emails, where he states, “I have abused my wife,” and, “I viewed myself as God basically and she was my slave.”
But Giants owner John Mara revealed in an interview with CBS Sports Radio affiliate WFAN that the news wasn’t a surprise to the team, as it was to the public. “He admitted to us he’d abused his wife in the past,” Mara said. “What’s a little unclear is the extent of that.”
Giants owner John Mara on Josh Brown: "He admitted to us he'd abused his wife in the past. What's a little unclear is the extent of that."— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) October 20, 2016
It was that qualification — “the extent of that” — and its suggestion that there is some level of domestic abuse that would be acceptable to the team that infuriated fans and commentators.
Is there some kind of sliding scale for "the extent of that" abuse, when 1st reports in Aug said Molly Brown told cops about 20+ instances? pic.twitter.com/2u8YPsV7fQ— Kerith Burke (@KerithBurke) October 21, 2016
"We're not sure how bad he hurt her...if he used a rocket launcher, OF COURSE we would have acted." What do you need to act?— Kerith Burke (@KerithBurke) October 21, 2016
“The Giants are clearly reacting to the news here, rather than being proactive about trying to ensure high-quality individuals populate their roster. It's a disturbing trend that happens far too often in the NFL,” CBS Sports’ Will Brinson wrote Thursday.
SB Nation’s Jeanna Thomas wrote:
The team acknowledged that Brown told them he had physically abused his wife, and if the team does not condone domestic violence, his honesty should have led to actual consequences. There is no excuse for the Giants’ continued public support of Brown.
It’s disingenuous for the team to say they “do not condone or excuse any form of domestic violence,” because refusing to subject Brown to any sort of significant discipline is most certainly condoning and excusing his decisions to abuse his former wife.
The NFL has long been accused of failing to take domestic violence seriously
As a result of the news about Brown, the decision-making of the Giants’ ownership is under scrutiny. But it fits into a larger pattern of the public's anger and frustration over what’s perceived as the NFL's domestic violence problem. This was recently fueled by the league’s handling of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice's assault on his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Rice in February 2014.
After an arbitrator granted Rice's appeal of his suspension in February of that year, making him eligible to play in the NFL again, Vox’s Amanda Taub wrote that the statement was a damning indictment of the NFL’s approach to domestic violence:
Moreover, the arbitrator found that the NFL knew about the second video, and had access to it, but did not watch it. NFL security was aware of the video. Ray Rice had a copy of the footage, but [NFL commissioner Roger] Goodell and the other members of the team who made the disciplinary decision never requested that he show it to them. Instead, they chose to rely on Rice's description of the events. So even if it is true that Rice misled them, the NFL had the means to view other evidence and draw its own conclusions. That it decided not to do so suggests willful blindness to the assault, and a callous disregard for its seriousness.
But most worrying of all, Goodell clearly believed that this was a reasonable approach to domestic violence, as evidence by the fact that he expected the arbitrator to accept the "just a slap, NBD" argument, and to accept his failure to watch the elevator video even though he had access to it. That raises questions about what will happen the next time an NFL player assaults his romantic partner. Will the NFL review all the available evidence, and understand the seriousness of what it shows? Or will it ignore evidence that could be damning, minimize the seriousness of the testimony it receives, and then hope the whole thing goes away?
Taken together, these revelations suggest that the NFL still has a lot to learn when it comes to domestic violence.
Domestic violence in the NFL, in perspective
Vox’s Joseph Stromberg explained in 2014 that Ray Rice was far from the first NFL player to assault a woman. The problem has gone on for years, with players who are arrested for or accused of domestic violence facing little or no discipline.
NFL players overall, Stromberg wrote, have lower arrest rates than the average group of American men ages 25 to 49, but there's one crime for which this is less true than all others: domestic violence. A chart from FiveThirtyEight's Benjamin Morris comparing NFL players’ relative arrest rates for various crimes with those of the national average for men shows this:
Still, abuse is a problem that’s much bigger than any sport, and most of the victims aren’t married to athletes. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, on average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States. The NFL’s lackadaisical responses are criticized not so much for their failure to punish any one player but for the message they send that any “extent” of this conduct is acceptable, in any context.