The true consequence of the NFL’s apparent ignorance about the seriousness of domestic violence goes well beyond taking a public relations hit. It sends a message to women everywhere –– and especially the spouses and partners of NFL players –– that domestic abuse is no big deal. That’s the message one gets from a league that suspends Tom Brady four games for playing with deflated footballs, and Giants kicker Josh Brown just one for beating up his wife. Eli Apple’s mother is the perfect person to push back against that callous line of thinking.
In a poignant essay for Sports Illustrated, the outspoken Annie Apple, who’s a contributor to ESPN’s NFL Countdown, recounts her own experiences with domestic violence. She says she was in an abusive relationship with a man who habitually hit her in the four years they were together, resulting in a forced abortion and beatings while she was pregnant. Apple left the marriage in 1995, shortly before Eli was born.
At the end of the piece, Apple writes about the importance of advocates who speak up for voiceless victims:
“What victims need is for someone to stand up for them and defend them because they live defenseless lives; they need someone who will take a stand and say the violence suffered was wrong and criminal,” she says. “One of the worst things you can do to a domestic violence victim or survivor is to defend the abuser. These abusive men aren’t abusing the women in their lives because they’re sick. These abusers are not the victims. They’re abusing women because they can. These men are not beating their co-workers, neighbors, priests, doctors and teammates. They’re abusing their wives and girlfriends because they can.”
In her essay, Annie Apple says Giants owner John Mara has a “dismissive attitude” about domestic violence. (Alyssa Schukar/AP Images for P&G)
Despite two years of tough talk and domestic violence PSA’s, it’s clear the NFL isn’t ready to lead in this important arena. Last week, SNY obtained documents from Brown in which he admits to serially abusing his then-wife, Molly, over a period of several years. “I have physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally been a repulsive man,” Brown writes in one of the entries. Below that, he circles the words, “I have abused my wife.”
Molly says Brown was physically violent with her more than 20 times. He was was arrested May 2015 in Washington state for a fourth-degree domestic violence charge, but the case was dismissed five days later. The NFL suspended Brown one game for the incident, saying in a statement it couldn’t conduct a complete investigation. The 37-year-old kicker is now on the commissioner’s exempt list, and will be paid his whole salary while he sits there.
Though the NFL may not have known the full extent of the abuse, it’s likely the league knew Brown’s arrest was more than, as he once said, “just a moment.” In police records, Molly talks about an incident at the Pro Bowl this year in which NFL security moved her to a separate hotel room after an episode with Brown. And if the NFL or the Giants weren’t aware of Brown’s brutal history, they have nobody to blame but themselves. The King County (Wash.) Sheriff blasted the league in an interview Thursday, pushing back against accusations that law enforcement didn’t help with the NFL’s investigation. Sheriff John Urquhart says the NFL’s investigator never said who he was representing on the occasions he reached out.
“NFL, National Football League,’ he could have [said] any of that,” Urquhart said. “Robert Agnew, Comcast.net, post office box in Woodinville. We had no idea who this yokel is. … Nowhere on the request does he say that [Agnew] works for the NFL and so, we don’t know that it’s the NFL and we’re not gonna give it out anyway, so we denied it.”
In addition to the botched investigation, Apple takes serious umbrage with Giants owner John Mara’s seeming nonchalant attitude about the incident. In a recent interview with WFAN, Mara said the team knew about at least some of Brown’s history with domestic abuse. “He’s admitted to us he’s abused his wife in the past,” Mara said. “But what I think is a little unclear is the extent of that.”
Those words suggest the Giants are OK with players who beat women –– up to a certain point. Apple said Mara’s comments were “dismissive and insensitive.” It’s unlikely that Mara, who’s the third generation of his family own the Giants, often faces that kind of pushback.
When asked Sunday about his mother’s statements, Eli said his mother is her “own person.” A strong, independent woman is exactly the kind of critic the NFL needs. Apple is able to personalize the league’s missteps and explain the impact of its inaction on this issue.
As one of the most powerful entertainment conglomerates in the country, the NFL could set the tone of a national conversation about combating domestic violence. But instead, it’s up to the Annie Apple’s of the world –– at least for now.
Follow Alex Reimer on Twitter or email him, email@example.com.