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Commentary: Leagues need playbook on domestic violence policy

By: Ted Streuli//June 10, 2015

Commentary: Leagues need playbook on domestic violence policy

By: Ted Streuli//June 10, 2015//

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The WNBA’s Tulsa Shock made an announcement on May 15 that it supported the league’s suspension of the team’s star player, two-time All Star forward Glory Johnson.

She was suspended for seven games following her arrest on a domestic violence charge. That’s the part that matters.

Here’s the part that doesn’t. It does not matter that when Johnson was arrested April 22 she was engaged to fellow WNBA star Brittney Griner, who plays for the Phoenix Mercury. It does not matter that following their fight at their Phoenix home they reconciled and married May 8. It does not matter that Griner was also suspended for seven games, or that neither woman pressed charges, or that Johnson announced June 4 that she is pregnant and won’t play the 2015 season. She added that she was not bisexual nor a lesbian, but married Griner because she, “fell in love with her as a person.”

And it does not matter that Griner filed for an annulment the next day.

The only thing that matters in this saga is that the WNBA had the chutzpah to dish out a major-league penalty to a pair of its highest-profile players.

Some were quick to point to the incident with ill-conceived defensiveness. A day after the fight, Washington Post writer Justin Wm. Moyer strung together a list of violent incidents involving WNBA players that effectively said, “See! It’s not just men!” He pointed out that the women’s league suffers much less scrutiny than the NBA, MLB, NHL and NFL, and mentions that whatever the WNBA’s domestic violence policy might be, it isn’t public.

No one with any sense believes domestic violence is limited to male perpetrators; however, men are by far the most prolific violent abusers. But, “See? They do it too!” isn’t a defense, it’s an excuse for inexcusable behavior. The point is not that men are violent, nor is it that women are sometimes physically abusive. The point is that no one, male or female, should use violence as a dispute-resolution tool.

Among the major men’s sports, only the NFL has a specific domestic violence policy, and that was discovered last year to be pretty loose after a security video showed Baltimore Ravens’ player Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in an elevator. Rice was originally suspended for two games, but after public outcry, the team cut him from the roster and the suspension was made indefinite.

Firing accused abusers has become the NFL norm since Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, then himself, on Dec. 1, 2012. Of the 10 NFL players arrested for domestic violence since, eight have been suspended and cut from their teams. A couple of them now have NFL contracts with other teams. For all the criticism, the NFL has been less tolerant than other leagues.

The NHL, NBA and MLB cover domestic violence under broader language in their collective bargaining agreements. Compare the WNBA’s response to the Johnson-Griner scrum to its closest cousin, the NBA, and the women’s league looks like a role model. The penalty to Johnson and Griner – seven games of a 34-game season – is the equivalent of the fifth-longest suspension in NBA history. The few more severe suspensions were assessed for violently attacking fans or coaches.

The penalty assessed by the WNBA for the level of offense was stronger by far than that doled out by the counterpart men’s league and that’s commendable. But what all professional sports leagues need is a uniform domestic violence policy that leaves no room for interpretation. It must say, “We will not tolerate this.”

Ted Streuli is editor of the The Journal Record (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma). A version of this column originally appeared in The Journal Record, sister publication to The Daily Record.

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