The Problem of Domestic Violence in American Athletes a Marketing PerspectiveResearch Paper

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Domestic Violence and Marketing in American Sports Leagues

In 2014 Ray Rice, an NFL player, was given an indefinite suspension and released from his contract with the Baltimore Ravens (Bien, 2014). With the event starting in February of that year, and the suspension only occurring in September, the long delay provided a significant level of fuel for the media, and complete a high level of controversy. It may be argued that the Baltimore Ravens were in a difficult position, one of their players had been accused of domestic violence, but he was an economic asset with a previously good reputation, which management and representation indicated they trusted. However, evidence also emerged to indicate he was guilty of domestic violence. This creates a difficult position for sports clubs; how should claims regarding domestic violence be handled? Sports people are in the public eye, and received a great deal of publicity. Therefore, even if they do not wish to influence society, the actions will be viewed by their followers and fans, and can influence on subsequent behavioural norms (Furedi, 2010). Issues which need to be considered include the way in which an ethical approach may be adopted, especially when the media will often assume that accused athletes are guilty until proven innocent. However, given the potential influence the sports personalities have, and the level of media attention that domestic violence stories attract, it is also essential for the good reputation of the sports clubs, and the industry as a whole, that they are not perceived as sheltering or supporting those committing domestic violence. The issue may be further complicated when it is realised that the culture of unity within the professional sport industry may be a significant factor in predisposing an athlete towards social violence (Sonderlund et al., 2013). The hypothesis of this paper is that the highly masculine and aggressive culture within professional sports leads to a higher than average incidence of domestic violence among professional athletes. A secondary hypothesis may be that until the culture within professional sports changes, domestic violence will continue to be disproportionately represented in this population. Assessing this hypothesis is important, especially for those involved in marketing and PR, as it indicates a potentially high-risk issue that will need to be dealt with in an effective manner to avoid harm to and sports reputations.

The paper will consider the issue of domestic violence within professional sports by considering the way in which it may manifest and impact, and then the theoretical issues which underpins the occurrences. This needs to be understood for marketers and public relations experts to deal with the issues.

The Ray Rice Case

Examining the Ray Rice case, the events leading to the suspension started in February 2014, when news broke that Rice had been arrested on a simple assault charge regarding an altercation with his fiancee in Atlantic City (Bien, 2014). Following the initial story, further evidence emerged with a video appearing to show a serious assault by Rice on his fiancee, including knocking her unconscious (Mandell, 2014). This incident of domestic violence gained a significant level of media attention, and effectively ended Rice's career in addition to resulting in a charge of third-degree aggravated assault. The incident was bad for Rice, but it also reflected badly on the team, and the sport. Interestingly, this incident resulted in the NFL changing their policy regarding how they handled domestic violence cases (Mandell, 2014). In the initial stages of the right case, his team, and representation, appeared to back and support the player, with the player only been suspended for the first time in July 2014, and only for two games (Bien, 2014). It is stage, it was apparent Rice was guilty, and was likely to face jail time as a result of the indictment (Bien, 2014). It was only in September that his contract with the Ravens was terminated, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely (Bien, 2014).

Unfortunately, while the case of Rice demonstrate what may be perceived as a questionable approach towards the handling of domestic violence, it is not an isolated case. Many other athletes in different sports have been accused, documented, and convicted of domestic violence offences. Examples include, but are not limited to, Ray McDonald and Chris Cook playing for the San Francisco 49 ers, at the Seattle Seahawks there was Kevin Williams and Tony McDaniel, with a list that can go on (Schuppe, 2014). Schuppe (2014) states that in the NFL alone, between 2000 and 2014 there were a total of 87 arrests of football players for domestic violence. Furthermore, research by O'Hear (2001) found that athletes were disproportionately more likely to commit domestic violence crimes compared to the general population, and the main protagonists would be professional footballers, accounting for 49% of domestic violence cases among all athletes.

Theoretical Assessment

This indicates the problem is widespread, and not limited to singular cases. The NFL may have adapted and clarified their rules to incorporate specific requirements regarding the handling of the violence cases. However, this leaves those involved in sports in a difficult situation, research has indicated strongly that there are higher levels of domestic violence in professional athletes compared to the general population, as seen with both O'Hear (2001), and Schuppe, (2014) with relatively simple research undertaken by examining statistical reports of domestic violence. While it may be argued that there is a correlation between sport people, especially footballers, and domestic violence, correlation alone does not necessarily indicate there is causation (Anderson, 2009). Examining this correlation, it may be simply child, may be that the more violent society are attracted to sports. However, the research undertaken by Boeringer, (1999) found that the fraternity culture associated with athletic participation in college would impact on perceptions of violence, and attitudes towards women in male athletes from a relatively early age. This research looked specifically at rape, rather than more general domestic violence, and clearly demonstrated that following membership of a fraternity, there would be a much higher level of support for statements indicating adversarial gender beliefs, and rates reported attitudes (Boeringer, 1999). With many professional having a fraternity sporting background, there appears to be a significant common influences may impact on their behaviour. Taking this concept further, Milner & Baker, (2015) the positive relationship was found between male professional athletic participation, and violence towards partners. Standard participation sport help to improve self-esteem and confidence, in both men and women (Milner & Baker, 2015). If the issue is associated with the culture, and the way in which domestic violence, which is a type of violence against women, is perceived needs to be understood. To assess this, primary research undertaken by Otto (2009) will be examined.

Charges and Sentences against Criminal Athletes

Research undertaken by Otto (2009) addresses the issue of culture, and the way in which violence appears to be more acceptable within the professional sporting environment. The research, which is in a peer-reviewed journal, provides a solid foundation for the research, such as the fact that 46 Penn State football players had been charged with a total of 163 crimes between 2002 and 2008, but only 27 were either convicted or pled guilty to those charges (Otto, 2009). Likewise, looking at the fraternity sector, statistics are used to illustrate high levels of violent crime against women, with research indicating that between 1986 and 1996 there were 425 cases reported in the media of athletes accused of violent crimes against women, but less than 50% were convicted (Otto, 2009). These are relatively convincing statistics, but it should be remembered that media reports may not always be accurate, even when they are assessed and analysed within peer-reviewed articles. However, Otto (2009) is not using this as evidence, but as a foundation an introduction to the problem.

The research by Otto (2009) was undertaken using data from between 1991 and 2008 where there were either professional or college it criminal convictions reported in the media. These included cases where there was either a guilty plea, or a plea of no contest. This approach to data gathering may be argued as significant, as it provides a robust approach, and avoid the potential for erroneous data to be included such as guilty verdicts which may have been made in error in contested trials. The research examines the type of crimes which the athlete either pled guilty or no contest to, and then at the way in which the charge was treated, including whether it was reduced, and the sentences that were subsequently received. The data was gathered from publicly available sources, including news reports in sports publications, as well as the quality press. To ensure a robust search, an independent research assistant was also utilised, with the research being undertaken primarily through keyword searches to identify reports of criminal activity.

The research identified a wide range of criminal activity undertaken by traffic, not only violence against women, domestic violence. The results were categorised into eight different charge types, these were murdered/attempted murder, homicide, rape,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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