On Frank Clark and Blaming the Victim

I am a woman. I enjoy watching sports.

Those two sentences together shouldn't immediately cause cognitive dissonance, but they do -- and not just because of run-of-the-mill sexism. No, though 90% of men are surprised by the fact that I plan my fall schedule around fantasy football matchups, it's not their confusion that concerns me.

It's my own.

I am a woman, and I watch people do things on TV, for entertainment, who have beaten women. Who have raped them. Who've threatened their lives.

Not all of them, of course, or even most. But the thing is, it's not a matter that requires a majority. How can I avoid feeling like a hypocrite watching a sport that consistently brushes aside its players' domestic and sexual violence? Well, it was much easier up until yesterday.

Before yesterday, the most visible offenders wore other teams' colors. Hardy, Roethlisberger, Rice etc. -- and let's not forget the most notable new addition: number one draft pick Jameis Winston. "How could they," I could easily tell myself, from the comfort of my beloved Seahawks' relatively pristine perch (important exception: Tony McDaniel).

But yesterday, the Seahawks -- no, wait -- coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider, who had specifically said in 2012 that the team "would never, ever take a player that struck a female, or had a domestic dispute like that," drafted Frank Clark with their first pick, a former Michigan defensive end who was arrested last November after his girlfriend Diamond Hurt's brothers, ages 3 and 5, told neighboring hotel guests "Frank is killing our sister."

The details of the police report and ensuing investigation are extremely disturbing (and should alone have been cause for concern) -- but what startles me the most is the following passage from the Detroit Free Press's initial report:

"Curran eventually spoke directly to Hurt, who refused a trip to the hospital to be examined and did not want to press charges because, according to the report, ‘with what Frank has going on, she didn't want him arrested.'"

Hurt did not press charges -- the state of Ohio did. His charges were lessened, according to his defense attorney, after "counseling Clark completed helped lead to the plea agreement." In other words, it seems highly unlikely that she was willing to testify against Clark.

I haven't reported on this, and there's no evidence that Hurt has commented on the incident. But a situation where a woman is reluctant to speak out against a man who has, at least once, gotten physically aggressive towards her, does not indicate a relationship where nothing is wrong. Rather, it points to an established cycle of abuse, where the victim does not see reason (having rationalized the behavior any number of ways) to involve authorities.

1 in 5 American women have been raped. 1 in 4 American women have been the victims severe physical violence at the hands of an intimate partner (both statistics courtesy of the CDC's 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey).

We all want to think that it's someone else's problem. We all want to think that we would act differently if some man threatened our lives not just once, but on a regular basis.

I know, from personal experience, that it's never that simple. I've trusted men, in the course of my life as a heterosexual woman, who haven't been deserving of that trust. One time, a man I trusted, and liked, put his hands on me without my consent. He was a little drunk, I was a little drunk -- it lasted for like a minute before I asked him what he thought he was doing. He laughed it off and acted like it was nothing, but I've never been as confused and hurt and scared as I was in that minute. The feeling of being at someone else's mercy, physically -- particularly someone who you like and want to like you (we are not rational creatures sometimes) -- is a complicated and painful emotion.

I don't share this to draw an equivalency between my experience and Diamond Hurt's or Janaye Rice's or Erica Kinsman's -- I've never been raped or physically hurt by a man, though that seems like a stroke of luck rather than any reflection of my own behavior.

I share it to show that domestic disputes and intimate violence are rarely cut and dry, and that blaming the victim is the worst possible way to address those kinds of conflicts. I share it because I remained involved with that man for almost two years after the incident. I want to think that had something more serious happened that I would have gone to the police, that I would have gotten him out of my life. But I can't say for certain what I would have done.

Ultimately, this pick feels like a betrayal of trust -- particularly for female fans. We trusted the organization not to perpetuate the violence that has become so endemic to the league.

Pete Carroll said "there are always two sides to a story" regarding Clark's alleged violence in the post-draft press conference. The one we might never truly know (and that Carroll almost certainly doesn't), is Hurt's.