Women Speak Out Against Domestic Violence, Pay Inequity in Sports

by David Tanklefsky  |  04.16.2017

BOSTON -- Last fall, when Annie Apple sent out a tweet criticizing the New York Giants for the team’s tone-deaf handling of domestic violence allegations against kicker Josh Brown, she was prepared for the backlash.

Not only was she an outspoken writer on issues related to women and sports, but her son, Eli, happened to be the Giants' first round draft pick.

"Molly Brown is somebody's daughter, sister and mother," Apple tweeted about Brown's ex-wife. "More importantly a human. It's not about my son's boss. It's about Molly's suffering."

It's a suffering Annie Apple knows too well as a domestic-violence survivor herself. Perhaps that's why a few days later, she sent out another tweet that left no room for misunderstanding when it came to her willingness to speak out against her son's employer.

"[Just] because someone signs your check," she wrote, "doesn't mean he or she owns your soul. The day you put that up for sale, your humanity ceases to exist."

Speaking at a panel on women in sports at Boston University's Play It Forward conference Friday, Apple had no regrets about how she chose to speak out.

"There's nothing more important than doing what in your heart you know is right," she told the crowd. Later she added, "You're not a good guy if you're beating your wife or girlfriend. Breaking news."

"You have a whole locker room of guys saying [about] the Cubs with Aroldis Chapman, 'Oh he's a great guy!'" said Chicago sports talk host Julie DiCaro. "He fired a gun eight times in the vicinity of his wife and newborn baby. He's not a great guy."

The women catalogued a long list of horrific tweets aimed at them for merely having the audacity to be a women sports fan with an opinion and a platform.

Sitting in a high-backed chair near the far right corner of the room, former Ravens coach Brian Billick looked up at the stage thoughtfully.

Years ago, Billick was the head coach of a Ravens team that welcomed back Ray Lewis after murder charges were dropped against him in 2000 (Lewis did plead guilty to a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge and provided testimony against the other two men accused in the murders).

Billick had participated in the panel just prior, a discussion on race and sports with ESPN's Jemele Hill, filmmaker Ezra Edelman and former NFL cornerback Shawn Springs. During that panel, the subject of Edelman's Oscar-winning series OJ: Made in America segued into Billick talking about Lewis.

"It rallied us as a team because we believed in Ray," Billick said. "It really became us versus them." 

While the Brown and Lewis cases are clearly different in specifics, the way both players' teams went to bat for them publicly underscores the broader issue: in sports, accusations of intolerable conduct are often dismissed or swept under the rug if a guy can tackle a running back or throw 100 miles an hour. Many times, the victims are women and the crimes seem fueled by a sense of male entitlement and stereotypes.

WBUR sports and society reporter Shira Springer discussed the recent video of Jameis Winston speaking at an elementary school and encouraging the boys to be loud and boisterous while making it clear the women were expected to be soft and polite.

"You can't let someone like Jameis Winston, with his history [Winston was accused of sexual assault while at Florida State] excuse it by saying it was a poor word choice. It was so much more than a poor choice of words. There's some ingrained attitude there towards women that has to be addressed...Words matter and you have to be calling these athletes on them continually and not letting coaches, owners, whoever it is excuse their behavior."

The panel also touched on issues of pay equity, discussing the recent victory by the U.S. women's hockey team who received wage and benefits increases after threatening to boycott the upcoming world championship.

"The unfortunate part of this is the fact that this is when women's sports get attention," said Springer. "I don't think anybody would have known that the world championships for women's hockey were coming up unless they staged a boycott."

The panel, which also included 12-time Olympic medalist Dara Torres, all agreed that getting more women into management and coaching positions is crucial to breaking down the barriers that have kept them from taking on bigger roles in men's athletics.

Springer discussed "checkerboarding" or the shuffling of women through various roles in an organization. A woman might come in hoping to become a coach but end up on the team's PR or human resources staff.

"I wish there was more development," she said. "The coaches in the NBA have invited more women in to an annual coaching summit. The commissioner's there, GM's are there. It's starting but there has to be more conscientious development of women across the sports world."

That idea of access to development opportunities reached back to something ESPN's Hill referenced during the panel on race in sports.

The panel discussed hearing employers say they had hired "the best person available" for a position. That, to Hill, begged the question:  Why aren't more of the "best people available" minorities?' They may be out there but lack the networking opportunities that would help make them visible to people in charge of hiring.

"Diversity is not just gonna come and knock on your door," Hill said. "You have to go look for it." 

Disclosure: Daily Brief contributing editor David Tanklefsky is also a freelance contributor to WBUR Boston.

[Image courtesy of David Tanklefsky]

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