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Viral outbreak

Shocking images of high-profile domestic abuse cases put sports leagues in the hot seat

Jeff Taylor Jeff Siner/The Charlotte Observer/AP

Viral outbreak
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Prior to the February video of Ray Rice dragging his now-wife from an elevator, discipline for domestic abuse was a kind of foreign policy in sports. Leagues handed out mostly meager suspensions, and the media didn’t cry foul. But in 2014, the culture of viral videos and images caught up with professional sports.

Ray Rice’s legal case had concluded by the time the video of him knocking out his wife appeared in September. Then pictures surfaced of running back Adrian Peterson’s 4-year-old son, who suffered lacerations from a so-called spanking with a tree branch. Professional athletes became the public face of domestic violence, and, for better or for worse, sports leagues took drastic measures to make a statement.

The NFL ran into legal trouble last month after changing its story and suspension plans more than once, perhaps the oddest being the ‘suspension-ish’ state of Peterson and others during their cases. A judge reinstated Rice to the NFL, ruling the league wrongly punished Rice twice for the same offense. Peterson pleaded no contest to “reckless assault,” entering his own fight to be reinstated after sitting out nine games, albeit with pay.

Other leagues excoriated the NFL’s inconsistency and built bridges to domestic violence ministries. But at year’s end, uncertainty remains the norm.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver followed through on a pledge to review league policies, suspending Charlotte’s Jeff Taylor 24 games last month. The NBA has a 10-game minimum suspension for a person’s first violent felony, and Taylor pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor. In hockey, Los Angeles defenseman Slava Voynov has been suspended with pay since Oct. 20, similar to Peterson. The Kings have argued the league allowed them no relief in a tight salary cap to replace him.

And in the end, no league spat can help get to the truth of what happens when athletes’ home lives fall apart. The district attorney’s office charged Voynov with a felony for allegedly injuring his wife’s “eyebrow, cheek and neck” during an argument. But his wife refused to press charges and won’t testify, claiming her injuries weren’t intentional.

A consensus is emerging that justice is more important than having a star in the field. But American sports enters 2015 seeking an equilibrium between giving the accused a fair hearing and giving battered women the respect they deserve.

The road to Dallas

Just three days after burying teammate Kosta Karageorge, who police say committed suicide, the Ohio State Buckeyes rallied together and pounded No. 13 Wisconsin 59-0. That earned them the fourth and final spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, joining Alabama, Oregon, and Florida State.

For the selection committee, the Buckeyes’ inspired mastery meant 11-1 Baylor University and Texas Christian University would both fall short, at No. 5 and No. 6, respectively. “I guess it takes being undefeated. Our goal next year will be to go undefeated,” Baylor Coach Art Briles said. New Year’s Day winners of a Florida State-Oregon Rose Bowl and an Alabama-Ohio State Sugar Bowl will meet Jan. 12 in Dallas, Texas. —A.B.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.


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