Tuesday, September 16, 2014

NFL: You Have a Problem

I love watching and playing sports. However, there's one sport that I just never got into as either a spectator or as a player and that is football. I'm glued to the screen for baseball, basketball and hockey games, tennis matches and even golf tournaments, but I couldn't name more than five players on my hometown team, the Detroit Lions, right now. So, when the Ray Rice scandal broke, I only looked at it from the perspective of a human being rather than as a football fan with any allegiance to the NFL.

(If you do love football and are looking for a positive football story involving a young woman this week, check out this article about North Farmington High School in Metro Detroit, Michigan, which has a 14-year-old girl as their kicker and she won their last game for them.)

I hadn't heard of Ray Rice before he physically assaulted his wife (then fiance) in the elevator and I still couldn't tell you what position he plays or for which team. That being the case, I know enough about football to say that the NFL has a very serious problem. A "zero tolerance" policy when it comes to domestic violence means just that. From the initial two-game suspension to allegedly covering up that the full elevator surveillance footage hadn't been seen by the league (as if that mattered), this entire ordeal has been mishandled. The incidents of illegal acts by NFL football players are overwhelming and there is enough of a violence problem that league commissioner Roger Goodell should immediately launch a league-wide program to eradicate it.

I plan to use some of my time in front of the congregation on Rosh Hashanah to speak about domestic violence in one of my sermons. It is a very important topic to bring to light since so many people in abusive relationships remain silent rather than telling their personal stories. One such woman who has decided to end her silence is Tamara Warren. I got to know Tamara during our undergraduate years in James Madison College at Michigan State University. We took several of the same courses and the class size at Madison College was small enough to really get to know each other.

Tamara Warren was a victim of domestic abuse
Tamara Warren

I only learned of Tamara's ordeal as the victim in an abusive relationship when she revealed her story in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday and shared the article in her Facebook feed. In her captivating article, Tamara explains how she got into the relationship with her ex-husband and how she got out. Surviving the horrific years in between those two periods in her life make her the hero that she is. Tamara writes:

It was springtime when, after a dinner date, we had a terrible fight and he hit me for the first time. I was shocked — and determined to leave. But when he bawled on his knees and swore it would never happen again, my resolve buckled. His parents praised me for being a strong woman. I didn’t dare tell my family. I wanted to forget it had happened. I didn’t want to believe I had married an abuser.

Yes, he hit me again, and again. And each time, I grew more confused, anxious and depressed as he manipulated me back into staying. He choked me in a hotel bed, just because I woke him up too early. I wore scarves to cover the bruises. Then there were smaller, sadistic acts — he threw away all my open-toed shoes. There were signs of deception and lying. One terrible night, he broke several bones in my hand.

Why didn’t I leave? Sometimes, I tried to. I planned my escape, but it seemed he was always ahead of me. He knew my instincts. He said he would kill me, kill my family, kill himself. I called a few area shelters for women; they had no free beds. The police came a few times, but I lost my nerve as he apologized for the disturbance and shook their hands. I was ashamed. I blamed it on his drinking — though often he was sober when he hurt me. Then, for a few months, the physical violence stopped. We went to couples therapy, though we never spoke of the violence. He convinced me things would get better, until they spiraled out of control again. My hair thinned, I temporarily lost my vision in one eye. I dropped out of law school.

The more I lost, the more I wanted to make my life better. I began to see the therapist alone. I wrote a few articles for this newspaper about local musicians, a reminder of how I’d always loved to report and write. Then I found an internship at AutoWeek Magazine, and I began to drive again. I found my desire for independence was back, which is when abusers typically become the most dangerous.

When I came home one night, he punched me in the face. I left him then, and stayed with family, who were alarmed, but who I’d still kept largely in the dark. I thought our marriage was over, so I moved back in. I rationalized that we could both temporarily stay in the apartment. Experts say it takes women an average of seven attempts to leave her abuser. Eventually, he attacked me again.

By then, I’d had enough; I called the police. Two male officers arrested him. He was convicted of a misdemeanor and eventually released. The next step for me was to get a protection order. I found that this paper was meaningless. He continued to harass me. I was not OK.

I am so glad that Tamara's life began anew and she now only sees the violence she endured in the rear view mirror. I give Tamara credit and a lot of respect for having the strength and courage to tell her haunting tale of abuse. It is not only courageous that Tamara, who has always been a very talented writer, publicly shared her story, but it is so important to others who are trapped in abusive relationships. God willing, Tamara's story will bring hope to those who are in the same dark place that she once found herself. May Tamara's story also push the NFL to truly have zero tolerance with its players who are perpetrators of domestic violence and may Commissioner Roger Goodell take the initiative to work to eradicate this plague which is tarnishing the league's reputation.

1 comment:

Rachel Kapen said...

Domestic violence seems to be an increasingly serious problem in our society and should be discussed more than it is. I am glad that you chose to discuss it during the High Holy Days. יישר כוחך ושנה טובה.