Sexuality, domestic violence and the sports media herd

Last week, Tony Dungy’s comments about Michael Sam and Roger Goodell’s two-game suspension of Ray Rice revealed quite a bit about an American sports media that continues to ditch journalistic rigor about issues involving gender, sexuality and domestic violence.

(I posted recently about pop feminism invading the sports pages, and that was evident last week.)

Typical of the reflexive fare about Dungy/Rice is this Scott Simon interview on NPR Saturday with Bloomberg sports columnist Kavitha Davidson, who wrote on both topics. Utterly hacktastic.

Only a handful of pieces attempted to cut through the black-and-white pontificating, and they were either ignored or slammed. But they are worth linking to, and I hope you’ll keep an open mind and read them:

• John Walters of Newsweek called the Dungy story a “nontroversy:”

“It should and has been noted that Dungy has come out against same-sex marriage in the past, but Dungy never said that he wouldn’t select Sam because he’s gay. If anything, Dungy said that Sam just isn’t a valuable enough commodity to justify the media circus that will surround him, a.k.a., the Tim Tebow Corollary.

“The 58-year-old former coach made the mistake of being candid.”

(A disclaimer: In April I was a guest of Walters on The Grotto, his Notre Dame sports podcast, but we’ve occasionally done some sparring on Twitter on other issues.)

Here’s a bit of a Twitter exchange including a suggestion from a sportswriter for The Chicago Tribune:

Send ’em to the moon! Not exactly the ideal way to ask for tolerance.

Later in the week, Gregg Doyel of echoed Walters, writing that the distraction wasn’t Sam or his sexuality, but the media feeding frenzy for a seventh-round draft pick.

While I think his handlers are doing a poor job and the media is treating his arrival as Lindbergh landing in Paris, I hope Sam makes it in the NFL. I also disagree with Dungy on gay issues. But none of that is the point.

• Journalists were quick to blast Goodell (here’s a sampling of reaction) for all kinds of alleged hypocrisy in sitting Rice for the first two games of the regular season only.

Michael Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated was virtually alone in saying that despite his own reservations, the commissioner still made the right call:

“Ray Rice was not convicted. His case never even went to trial. He pleaded not guilty to a single count of third-degree aggravated assault and entered a diversionary pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders.

“This kind of fact tends to get lost in the modern media climate, especially on Twitter. We draw a line in the sand, jump to one side as quickly as possible, and scream that people on the other side are morons. The instinct is to say ‘HE BEAT UP A WOMAN AND ONLY GOT SUSPENDED TWO GAMES’ and feel proud of ourselves. If anybody tries to dispute the point, or bring some nuance to the discussion, or (gasp!) understand both sides of the argument, that person gets shot down. In this case, that person is easily branded as supporting a domestic abuser.”


“We have a justice system for a reason. It is not perfect, but it’s what we have. It is very possible that prosecutors thought Rice was guilty but did not think they could get a jury to convict him. . . . Nonetheless, this was the outcome of Rice’s journey through the justice system.

“Now: If you were Roger Goodell, what would you do? Can you really suspend Rice for half a season or more based on what you think probably happened?”

It’s an argument lost on too many of Rosenberg’s peers, who don’t venture beyond tales of endless male perfidy/female victimology. The difficulties of investigating and prosecuting domestic violence and rape are ignored, if acknowledged at all. Kangaroo-court actions are demanded to “send a message” about male jocks who hurt women.

This was as rare a point made in the sports media as Rosenberg’s:

Some sportswriters were quick to applaud Texas football coach Charlie Strong last week for booting players charged with sexual assault. Their guilt or innocence hasn’t been established, but Strong — wait for it now — “sent a clear message.”That’s all that matters.

Yes, Strong took a “bold” step. The facts of the pending cases be damned.

Sports journalists like to demonstrate how enlightened they are on social issues. But many are remiss in deeply exploring unanswered questions that need serious critical attention from them. Such as:

What happens when a famous pro football player is shot to death in his sleep by a woman?


Five years ago this month, this happened to Steve McNair in a murder-suicide, but the anniversary was barely noticed in the media. When you Google his name, right below his Wikipedia entry is an ESPN The Magazine profile of his 20-year old assassin (by a female writer) that is borderline sympathetic.

Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs got no such treatment after he killed his pregnant girlfriend, then turned the gun on himself in front of his coach and general manager. A parade of media diatribes about (male) athletes and domestic violence included this noxious crap from Dave Zirin, who implicated the team and the NFL.

You know, blaming the “culture” as well as the institution of professional football, instead of an individual.

Jason Whitlock barely waited for “Air” McNair to be cold in the ground before ripping him for being a bad father because of his extramarital affairs. At least this ugliness got a proper humane pushback.

What happens when female athletes commit acts of domestic violence?

More crickets.

Last year ex-WNBA player Chamique Holdsclaw pleaded guilty to a felony — firing a gun inside her former girlfriend’s SUV after breaking the windows.

Not only did she get a general pass from the press, the Tennessee Lady Vols great also received this redemptive media indulgence mentioning her crime only in passing, and very deep in the story.

Former pro tennis star Jennifer Capriati cut a deal with Florida authorities earlier this year to drop stalking and battery charges in exchange for community service and anger management courses for her confrontation with an ex-boyfriend. No media fulminations were to be found.

Earlier this month marked the end of a blog devoted to the Duke lacrosse controversy. Brooklyn College history professor K.C. Johnson’s Durham-in-Wonderland was inspired by what he saw as “an indefensible betrayal by professors of their own school’s students.” But Johnson also was a rare watchdog of the media excesses of the case, notably The New York Times.

As I wrote last month, it’s as if the media has learned nothing from the Duke story. Instead, personal emotions are substituted for the presumption of innocence and journalistic diligence of complicated issues.

For when it comes to assessing the full picture of domestic violence — it is hardly the one-sided story that is often portrayed — an otherwise self-righteous American sports media is decidedly incurious.

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