Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Most still don’t understand domestic abuse

Ray McDonald is playing football and broadcaster Ted Robinson has been suspended. What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty. Everything.

Though for very different reasons, both 49ers’ employees should be on the sideline Sunday for what was supposed to be a grand-opening celebration of Levi’s Stadium instead of the setting for an ongoing discussion about athletes, domestic violence and a franchise that moved south and seemingly lost its way.

McDonald is being investigated for assaulting his pregnant fiancée. His Aug. 31 arrest gave the 49ers ample justification to suspend him – with pay – but he is being allowed to play while awaiting word from the authorities.

Robinson, the 49ers’ radio announcer, talked his way out of a job – temporarily – Monday by suggesting that Janay Rice, the wife of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, bore some responsibility for not speaking out after being knocked unconscious by her then-fiancé in a hotel elevator and, a month later, marrying her alleged batterer.

“Pathetic,” Robinson characterized the situation during an interview on KNBR that also led to a two-game suspension by the Pacific-12 Networks.

Without hearing the audio – calls to the station were not returned and the tape was not available on the KNBR website – one can quibble with Robinson’s use of the term “pathetic,” which Webster’s Dictionary in part defines as “expressing, arousing, or intended to arouse pity, sorrow, sympathy or compassion,” particularly without hearing the phrase in context.

But this chronic blame-the-victim game is inexcusable. Unconscionable, really. The sight of Ray Rice punching his fiancée in the face, knocking her unconscious, and then casually dragging her limp body out of the elevator is beyond horrific. This is someone’s mother, daughter, sister, niece. This is, sadly, just another victim of a crime that resonates when captured on cameras and cellphones, but more often occurs behind closed doors, often in the privacy of a home.

Why do victims stay? Isn’t that what Robinson is asking? What did she do to provoke the attack? Isn’t that what Indiana Pacers forward Paul George wondered in offensive tweets that earned him a sharp reprimand from team president Larry Bird? And shouldn’t the victim’s perspective influence the extent of the punishment, either by a league or the judicial system? Isn’t that what NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suggested when he included Janay Rice in the meeting that led to the initial two-game suspension of her husband?

While Goodell continues promising a new policy of zero tolerance, his words are empty, his credibility less than zero. If Robert Mueller’s investigation unearths evidence that the commissioner saw the damning tape weeks ago, as ESPN is reporting, and has been rewriting his story in an attempt to save his behind, his belongings should be dumped on the street, right next to his reputation.

Meantime, domestic violence experts are offering theories and answering questions substantiated by thick books of statistics. Why do victims stay? The Centers for Disease Control, Department of Justice and many of the national coalitions against spousal abuse cite the following: Fear that a spouse/partner will harm and possibly kill the victim, children, pets or other family members; low self-esteem that can cause the victim to shift blame to themselves; financial dependence; the desire to keep the family intact for the sake of the children; pressure from other family members to solve their domestic issues privately and avoid embarrassment; and, in many instances, a lack of awareness about where to seek help.

“Because we are a patriarchal society, a lot of the root cause here is attributable to hypermasculinity,” said Dan Lebowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. “ ‘If I can dominate you, I’m a man.’ That’s a powerful dynamic. But where is the construct that teaches youngsters that being a man includes showing kindness, compassion, respect for women, respect for people of all races?”

The Boston-based center has been addressing gender and racial inequities and promoting social change for almost 30 years, largely through youth programs and partnerships with various amateur and professional sports leagues, among them the LPGA, the WTA, USA Cycling, the Association of Surfing Professionals and, on a less consistent basis, with the NBA, Major League Baseball and NFL.

“Every league is reactive, not proactive,” said Lebowitz, who concurred with the suspension of Robinson but contends the 49ers committed “a major mistake” by keeping McDonald on the active roster. “That’s really the issue. The NFL … where were they? Where have they been? Why does it always take a disaster to get to common sense? Where has the outcry been about (prominent) domestic violence? About showing what domestic violence really looks like? The Rice situation is galvanizing because we live in such a visual, virtual world, it was not hard not to see. And I’m hoping people keep looking. We need to start a national conversation that should have been started years ago.”

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