By Chelsea Cristene
Twenty-one NFL teams carried at least one player with domestic violence or assault charges on their rosters during the 2012 season. Chelsea Cristene offers suggestions for what to do to change that.
Pittsburgh is a town that loves its sports. This is apparent on every flashing marquee, on the side of every bus, and in every restaurant—chain and independent alike. One night last spring, I caught sight of this love in the lobby of Patron, a Mexican restaurant in Pittsburgh’s North Hills suburbs, and lost myself in the autographed pictures hanging floor to ceiling of all the Steelers who have eaten there.
But I was also introduced to another kind of history. “This place was all over the news a few years ago,” my cousin told me as we slid into our booth. “Remember Cedrick Wilson? Receiver for the Steelers? He came in here and hit his ex-girlfriend in the face.”
A different story than the one told by those smiling photographs, for sure. Shortly after the assault, owner Dan Rooney issued the following statement: “The Steelers do not condone violence of any kind, especially against women,” and Wilson was cut from the team. Likewise, Steelers running back Chris Rainey was cut hours after chasing down his girlfriend and slapping her during an altercation in January 2013.
Other teams have demonstrated similar no tolerance policies—the Dolphins had no problem terminating Chad Johnson following domestic battery charges in 2012, and the Bengals’ release of Ahmad Brooks after he punched a woman in 2008 was highly speculated to be fueled by the team’s efforts “to rehabilitate their image.”
But consistency is key, and not all athletes and teams have been playing by the same set of rules. Ahmad Brooks was picked up by the 49ers shortly after his release by the Bengals—only to go on and assault a teammate this past July. Following a domestic abuse charge in 2011, Green Bay linebacker Erik Walden received little more than a slap on the wrist—a mere one-game suspension.
Linebacker James Harrison continued to play for the Steelers after agreeing to enter counseling following assault charges in 2008, sparking an underdog-overcoming-adversity spin that journalists like Harold Abend have given the story. Abend portrays Harrison as a sympathetic figure despite his long history of violent outbursts—“The bumps and bruises he has sustained on the gridiron…pale in comparison to what he has endured off the field”—as though James Harrison is a victim of unfortunate circumstance and not a habitual instigator responsible for his own conduct.