Within the public eye, accusations of domestic violence and sexual assault are something that has become increasingly common as those who come forward are no longer facing the same repercussions that they used to. This is no different for professional sports leagues.
However, a glaring difference between accusations against professional athletes and against other public figures is the consequences that those who are accused will face. In many cases, people accused of sexual assault or domestic violence are publicly shamed and de-platformed. The same is not true when it comes to professional athletes.
If a male professional athlete is accused of domestic violence or sexual assault they frequently face no repercussion, so much so that some of the athletes that are held in the highest regard have been accused, yet those accusations have frequently fallen to the wayside and are largely ignored by the leagues and the fans of those players alike.
In 2003, Kobe Bryant was charged with sexually assaulting a woman ÐÐ the charges were dismissed and later settled out of court in a civil case. In the wake of his passing, this is something that people are heavily reluctant to talk about, saying that it’s too soon to bring it up or that it isn’t important right now.
But when is the right time? At what point is it deemed okay to bring up this important part of his history?
Kobe Bryant is not going to be remembered as a rapist. He is going to be remembered as a basketball legend, a father, a role model.
His legacy was not tarnished in any way by this. He will still be remembered as one of the greatest despite the fact that this is something that he did that people don’t want to discuss. They don’t want to be faced with the fact that their icon would do something like this.
However, this problem doesn’t end with Kobe.
In the summer of 2019, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews was charged with disorderly conduct in his home state of Arizona for drunkenly trying to get into a woman’s car while she was inside and pulling down his pants while walking away.
While this happened over the summer, the information didn’t get out until a few months later. Both Matthews and the Maple Leafs were trying to cover up this incident and make sure nobody found out about it. That only begs the question of what these organizations were able to successfully cover-up.
The discussion following this didn’t focus on the experience of the woman or how female fans of the Maple Leafs would feel after this, it largely consisted of male sports reporters making jokes about the situation and fans concerned that this would mean that Matthews chances at being named the next captain of the Maple Leafs were gone.
The NHL has a long history of being terrible in dealing with matters of sexual assault and domestic violence. The NHL has no defined policy on domestic violence and sexual assault and because of that, their response to it over the years has been lacking.
There has only been one instance in which the NHL has taken real action to deal with domestic violence and that was in the case of former LA Kings’ defenseman Slava Voynov.
Voynov was arrested in 2014 on charges of domestic violence for abusing his wife. He was subsequently suspended from the NHL and he returned to his native Russia.
However, while the action that the NHL decided to take seems at a glance through, there were still many shortcomings within the process and in the current day.
Per routine league ruling, Voynov was suspended during the active police investigation. However, the LA Kings attempted to circumvent that by having him attend practice, something they were later fined for. Voynov’s suspension also only holds through the end of the 2019-20 season, following that he is free to return and play for any willing team as if nothing happened.
It is obvious by the actions that the league has avoided taking and in the few situations that they have decided to take action that they will always prioritize the few players, no matter how bad their actions are, over their entire female fanbase.
Within men’s professional sports leagues as a whole, domestic violence and sexual assault are not viewed as seriously as they should be. Looking at any of the four major leagues, it is not hard to find a string of players all accused of domestic violence or sexual assault that are still being allowed the platform to play and supposedly serve as role models for their communities.
Continuously not taking these accusations seriously and allowing these men to maintain their platforms does nothing but further normalize this type of behavior for younger generations and allow for it to continue the same in the future.
Of the four major leagues, the NBA and the MLB are the only ones that have a concrete and comprehensive policy written on domestic violence and sexual assault. However, having those rules exist on paper does nothing if they are not executed as well. Those policies also do not ensure that domestic violence and sexual assault does not happen in these leagues and that many players are able to get away with it.
Gone are the days that players can act without thought to how they will be viewed by the public. In the media age we live in now, each minute action these athletes take can be examined by anybody around the world. But, that still doesn’t mean that domestic violence and sexual assault is being taken seriously.
Accusations are commonly only regarded as a bump in the road for most, an unfortunate incident temporarily halting their career brought up anecdotally for years to come. These accusations and in some cases convictions do not end careers. They do not tarnish legacies.
Big-name players are able to get away with it because the mentality is still the same. Once domestic violence and sexual assault are taken seriously at every level, real change can finally happen.