Professional Athletes, Domestic Violence, And Due Process

Adrian Peterson in 2011. Photo by Mike Morbeck.

It has been kind of a rough time for fans of professional football. Game statistics and conversations about next week’s match-ups have so often been replaced by reports of players involved in domestic violence and child abuse. The NFL and its culture have been vocally called into question by sports reporters, abuse experts (real and not so real), politicians with a cause, and attention seekers simply looking for some time in the spotlight. Despite the dubious qualifications of some commentators, the accusations themselves are serious and attention does need to be paid to the evidence. Though in the rush to judge, doesn’t it seem like true due process has been forgotten?

Early in my professional career, I worked with victims of physical, sexual, and verbal use. I worked with people whose cases I would not even begin to detail here because of how traumatic they were. Some of the victims had been abused for years. A very natural reaction was to want to punish the alleged perpetrators of the abuse; and the temptation was to do so even before the full situation was known and understood.

Diligent investigation and preponderance of evidence is needed to clearly determine if someone accused of abuse is guilty or innocent. If judged guilty, the question then becomes, “Is this someone who needs to be jailed in order to protect the victim or public?” Cases are often complicated, and, even when the abuser is guilty, punishment does not always serve the best interests of either the victim or the public.

One of my clients was at a stage in his life where he was too old to be a boy and too young to be a man. He had experienced very serious physical abuse at the hands of his father. The dad in this case ended up in jail, in part because of the abuse he dished out, but also due to drug and alcohol issues.

My client – let’s call him Sam – began to act out after his father had gone to jail. Sam’s mom was parenting three other young children and having difficulty making ends meet. She was relying on Sam to be more of a man than he was ready to be. After hearing from other adult family members (not his mom) that his dad was a bad person, Sam came to the conclusion, “If my dad is a bad person, then I must be bad too.” He then acted out that belief by getting into trouble in school and with law enforcement.

While Sam’s mom was angry at what his father had done, she made it clear she did not think of him as a bad person. Their marriage had been mostly positive until the last few years when he began to drink heavily and use amphetamines. She said Sam’s father had come from a family that drank heavily and neglected their children. Her hope was that he would be sent to chemical addiction treatment, which would give him the opportunity to get his life back together. The courts felt that the family needed protection, so they instead sent him to jail.

There are some in my profession who will say Sam’s mom did not have a clear picture of his father and had aligned with the aggressor, also making her a victim. This does happen and is part of what makes due process complicated in these situations.

The reality was that Sam’s father was actually a pretty good man who was suffering from the disease of addiction complicated by his own experiences of trauma. Further due diligence by Children’s Protective Services, encouraged by Sam’s mother and the adolescent treatment program Sam was attending, led to Sam’s father getting help. He got sober and, in dealing with his own past, was able to be a role model to Sam, helping Sam understand that neither he or his father were bad people. Sam was able to get his “act together” and stay out of trouble.

My point in sharing the above case is this: due diligence is important, and it’s important whether it is an accusation of abuse in a family or sexual harassment in a business. Emotionally reacting to evidence and making rash decisions before a thorough investigation often leads to more hurt and pain.

Safety and justice for all parties is important and the severity of a complaint alone is not sufficient reason to discipline or punish. My hope is that your business or organization has in place the policies and personnel to handle complaints efficiently, effectively, and with integrity.

If you want to talk about due process in your work place and explore how you can make it the kind of place people want to work and employees want to stay, give us a call at The Village Business Institute (1-800-627-8220). We will be delighted to talk with you.

About the blogger
Darrin Tonsfeldt has a background of program administration, employee supervision, and clinical experience, as well as 20 years of experience in organization consulting and planning. He provides oversight of The Village Business Institute, Regional Counseling Services, and Financial Resource Center programs. He also provides consulting services that include strategic planning; career, leadership, management, and executive coaching; corporate training and group facilitation; crisis response in the workplace; and organizational consulting.