No Penalty For Unnecessary Roughness

While Victims are Bruised and Battered, Abusers in the NFL Start and Stay Paid

Illustration by Natalie Lu

Hits. Bruises. Scars. I am sick of the abuse off the field at the hands of professional athletes. The lack of respect for women and children victimized by these big men who outweigh and out muscle their victims is disgusting, and the leagues, teams, and coaches who employ, keep and start them are just as guilty as the abusers themselves.

With the AFC Championship game this Saturday and anticipation in seeing Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, number one receiver on his team play, I’d like to start with his abuse.

Hill was charged with domestic violence in 2015. According to an article in The Undefeated by Mina Kimes, Hill’s girlfriend at the time, Crystal Espinal, told police that Hill “grabbed her neck with his hands, pinned her against the wall and then thrown her to the ground like a ‘rag doll.’ She told an officer that Hill had picked her up by her hair and put her in a headlock.” She was treated and later released from the hospital. Espinal was eight weeks pregnant with Hill’s child.

After dismissal from the Oklahoma State Cowboys program, Hill received three years probation after a plea deal with the district attorney’s office, with a 52-week batterer intervention course and supervision for two years.

In 2018, according to KCTV News in Oklahoma, the charges were dismissed and expunged and a “judge in Oklahoma found Hill to be in compliance, withdrew the guilty plea, entered a not guilty plea, and ordered the case to be dismissed and expunged. The judge deferred Hill’s sentence for three years and the victim agreed to the deferment and gave him a clean slate.”

Then, the child abuse happened.

A clear timeline published by Sports Illustrated walks us through Hill’s abuse incidents. March 2019 was when police were called to Hill’s home to investigate child abuse or alleged neglect involving his three-year-old son and Espinal, who was now Hill’s fiancee. 10 days later, police went to the home again, where in the police report, Hill was not directly listed, but his address was, where the incident resulted in his son’s broken arm.

In April, both Espinal and Hill temporarily lost custody of their son as the investigation into the injury happened, and weeks later, the district attorney on the case did not file charges, as it was not clear who had inflicted the injury on their son. At the end of the month, the audio was released, and it “captures Hill threatening to assault Espinal as well. In the clip, Espinal asked Hill why their son said, ‘Daddy did it,’ in regards to his broken arm. They also discussed other instances of Hill getting physical with the child and, at one point in the conversation, Hill told Espinal, “You need to be terrified of me, too, bitch.” The latest on Hill fighting for custody over his son in October can be found in report by Kansas City Star here.

In July, it is decided Hill will not face discipline and will stay on the team.

That audio, though. The final line, where he threatens Espinal, makes me ill. She clearly states that Hill hits his son in the chest when he is misbehaving. It is all revolting. The threat and calling her a bitch proves once an abuser, always an abuser (and yes, abuse can also be verbal.) Yet this “man” was drafted to the Chiefs in 2016. In 2019, his contract was extended for another five years at $54 million. And if the Chiefs win this Sunday, it’s off to the Super Bowl for him. No consequence. All of this fidelity from fans and his team.

USA Today Sports keeps a current database of NFL arrests. From 2014 to 2019 alone, there have been over 60 cases categorized as either domestic violence, rape, assault, child abuse, or battery and the majority of them have involved violence or assault against women, specifically. I rarely came across a team formally releasing a player for the charges. In fact, if they are not retired, many are still employed by the NFL, or categorized as unresolved.

Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard is the latest abuser to strike his fiancee on Dec. 29. According to USA Today, the Davie Florida Police report stated Howard, “grabbed both of her arms and pushed her back up against the mirrored glass wall in the hallway of the bedroom.”

Dolphins coach Brian Flores made a statement during a press conference after as reported by South Florida Sun-Sentinel. “We’re still gathering information on that,” Flores said. “We take situations like that very, very seriously. We’re gathering information, and it’s unfortunate… We’ll gather all the information and do what’s best for the organization.”

That was on Dec. 30, days after Howard was charged with battery. When discussing Howard’s injury and placing him on injured list, however, Flores seemed more than willing to discuss “future” and “career” despite the allegations and police report.

“We felt that was the best decision for X. He’s been dealing with the need for some time… thinking long term, his career and future… we just felt it was the best thing for him and for this team,” Flores said.

I understand public relations. I understand keeping it short for the press. Time and again we have seen vague statements after a domestic violence incident. I would have loved to have seen a coach make a statement about how there will be no future with the team for Howard. NFL is more willing to speak on and empathize on their players getting hurt than the players hurting their own wives and children. Howard signed a five-year $76.5 million extension in 2019, making him the highest paid cornerback in the league.

Jonathan Dwyer was deactivated by the Cardinals in 2014 after he was arrested after being indicted with one count of aggravated assault on eight misdemeanors. That July, court documents stated Dwyer punched his wife on the face, “… began punching the walls… picked up a shoe and threw it, striking their 17-month-old son in the stomach.” In an opinion piece by E.J. Montini for AZ Central, a few lines sum up some of what is wrong with thte league and domestic abusers. Montini wrote,

“On the playing field that would draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and perhaps even an ejection. A player might also be fined and suspended. The penalties aren’t much different in real life. Except Dwyer’s wife wasn’t wearing helmet. And the confrontation was no game.”

Another high profile incident was Antonio Brown, the problematic wide receiver who jumped from team to team. A lawsuit was filed Sept. 10 by trainer Britney Taylor, which alleged Brown sexually assaulted her on three occasions “from June 2017 through May 2018, including one forcible rape.”

Michael Bowie is another winner. According to ESPN, in 2017 the New York Giants offensive tackle turned himself in after a warrant was issued for domestic assault and battery. The assistant district attorney on the case reported that Bowie “grabbed his girlfriend by the neck during the argument and threw her on the ground, then broke a pair of TVs and punched a hole in the wall.” Bowie’s agent said, “We thoroughly investigated this. Michael’s girlfriend did not want to press charges, never said there was any physical contact and we don’t know why the district attorney is moving forward.”

To be clear, many charges after arrests on the crime log were “dismissed” or labeled as “resolution undetermined.” There are a number of reasons women in abusive relationships do not seek charges against their abuser and stay in the relationship, like Espinal did.

According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline website, “Leaving is often the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse, because abuse is about power and control. When a victim leaves, they are taking control and threatening the abusive partner’s power, which could cause the abusive partner to retaliate in very destructive ways.”

The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that some reasons include “The fear that the abuser’s actions will become more violent and may become lethal if the victim attempts to leave, lack of financial means to support themselves or their children, fear of losing custody, lack of safety or support, among other reasons.

Kam Moore from the New York Giants had one of the most recent domestic violence incidents that are on the NFL log. Moore was charged for “punching a woman and knocking her unconscious after stepping on her neck in a domestic violence incident… Moore is accused of placing his foot on the unidentified woman’s neck and applying pressure during an incident outside of his home. After she got to her feet, the woman told police she began yelling at Moore and pushed him, and he responded by punching her in the face with a closed fist and causing her to lose consciousness,” according to the report.

Former Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboy player Greg Hardy is my last NFL player of note.

I want you to look at this photo of his ex girlfriend Nicole Holder:

Then, I want you to read about the detailed incident with plenty of graphic photos of her after the beating by Hardy. Her detailed account includes, “fighting back, he threw me into the bathroom, I hit the back of the shower wall and fell into the bathtub where he pulled me out.”

He dragged her out by her hair and picked her up again, she said, throwing her onto the futon, which had several weapons — what she described as “guns from … the Army or … I mean like from video games” — on it. She landed on top of the rifles and then fell onto the floor. In her telling, he stood above her and strangled her with both his hands.”

One of the earliest and most high profile cases of domestic violence was after Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested. A video of Rice dragging his now-wife Janay Palmer from an elevator was viewed but not immediately made public and different members of the Baltimore Ravens organization came to his defense.

Rice only missed two games and the NFL updated their conduct policy. A second video came to light which showed Rice punching Palmer in an elevator. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was criticized for lack of serious action on the situation. Palmer is now Janay Rice, and has two daughters with Rice.

People fed up with the NFL’s lack of effort to take an official stance on domestic violence:

Sen. Richard Blumenthal put the NFL on blast this September, demanding an even tougher stance on players charged with domestic violence while sharing a letter he sent to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell:

Annie Apple, former columnist for Sports Illustrated and mother of Eli Apple, cornerback for the New Orleans Saints, has spoken out about her own abuse and has not stopped being critical of the NFL and domestic violence. She created the HealHer Network, an organization that provides mobile support outreach for women who are victims of domestic violence.

If anyone is wondering why I give a shit about domestic violence in sports or in general, it’s because I am currently the sports editor of my college’s publication. I am also a domestic violence abuse survivor.

My ex-husband, who I was with for a total of seven years, who started physically abusing me almost right after I had a ring on my finger, put me through absolute hell. I wrote about what I went through, and I have been divorced for three years now, though I have been told by mental experts that I have a type of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and am still trying to pick up certain pieces of what happened to me.

In summary, he would beat me while I was on the floor, leaving me bruises where no one was able to suspect he was utilizing his wife as a punching bag. He would also love smothering me with a pillow while he was on top of me. His strength would overpower me to the point where I’d tell myself, “This is it. I’m going to die right here,” on my own bed, with my own pillow. Sometimes I would purposefully play dead so that he would stop trying to actually kill me.

Ever since I’ve been out of that relationship, I try to educate others about domestic violence in any way possible. Now that I am a college media sports editor, I have an interest in the social issue aspects of the sports world’s very real and deep problem with the treatment of women, athletes, and of their partners.

So, what’s it going to take for people to wake up to the NFL and their lack of care for the women and children affected by their highly paid players? Maybe a death. I don’t know the answer. Nor do I know the solution. Of course I want them released after they have abused a woman. “Rehab” and “therapy” is a joke for these guys, as we’ve seen. What I can do is share resources for those who are in or have released themselves from the grips of their abusers, specifically in my local community.

The YWCA is a resource available domestic violence survivors who are residents and non residents of San Gabriel Valley. They have a 24-hour helpline (626–967–0658), and provide referral assistance. Everything is confidential.

Jenica Morin-Pascual, prevention services, training manager, spoke with me about resources available to those in need after they escape a DV situation.

There are emergency shelters for families in fear for their lives or fleeing from an abuser. “We take them in for 45 days in a shelter in a private location in San Gabriel Valley.” They take men, women, LGBTQ community, and anyone faced with domestic violence. After the 45 days, they may qualify for transitional housing.

Melissa Guzman, Housing Case Manager YWCA, also shared that “YWCA assists with transitional housing. Though there is a waitlist, once those in need are accepted, programs last from three months to two years long. The program allows for clients to get back on their feet to find a job, go to school. For those who may not qualify, there is still additional assistance possible with rent, pricing, motel vouchers, etc. For more information, visit the YWCASGV website.

Domestic violence survivors, at many times, feel isolated. If they feel they can’t go to family or friends about issues within their abusive relationship, they may feel more alone.

Guzman’s advice for anyone who has a friend or family member involved in a relationship with an abuser and does not know what to do: “Always be available to friends who are going through it, as bad as it may feel.” Sometimes a friend may stay for reasons we cannot pinpoint or control. Some of the reasons I mentioned will hopefully educate those reading this.

Here are more resources for friends, family, victims, and survivors to look into:

House of Ruth, Claremont CA: Provides transitional living services including emergency shelter, domestic violence counseling, children’s services, community services.


California Partnership to End Domestic Violence:shaping public policy, increasing community awareness, and strengthening our members’ capacity to work toward our common goal of advancing the safety and healing of victims, survivors and their families.”

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network RAINN: Information and resources on intimate partner violence

The Hotline: 24-hour online and over the phone assistance for domestic violence victims to talk confidentially to trained advocates about domestic violence.