The most stunning statistic in sports is also the most horrifying.
In 2009, David Card of the University of California, Berkeley and Gordon Dahl of the University of California, San Diego published a paper in the Quarterly Journal of Economics entitled Family Violence and Football: The effect of unexpected emotional cues on violent behaviour. Their research showed that when a home team in the NFL is expected to win by more than 3 points but loses a game, the number of calls to the police in the town of the home team reporting men assaulting their wives or partners rises by 8 per cent.
Many of the calls suggest that most of the domestic violence occurs either during the last hour of the game or in the two hours immediately after it has finished.
The number of assaults rises even more if the home team loses to a traditional rival, or has a particularly frustrating performance with many sacks, turnovers or penalties.
For those of us who have no experience of it, domestic violence is one of life’s most incomprehensible horrors. And the idea that football matches can be foreboding for some women, an ominous precursor to violence at the hands of a loved one, is well beyond respectable description.
Every time we pull for an underdog, every time we revel in the errors of a home favourite, there are women utterly desperate for the opposite outcome.
Of course, this isn’t the only statistic about domestic violence that causes one to reel in disbelieving horror. In London, 10 calls an hour are made reporting male-on-female domestic violence, and it’s been said that 1 in 4 women worldwide will experience some level of violence in the home. How incredibly few Prince Charmings there are in the world.
When such violence is predicated on a man’s disappointment with his football team, the violence appears so far beyond the realm of comprehension. So obvious in its selfishness and pettiness. So brutally pointless.
This statistic was once mentioned in passing in Sports Illustrated during a feature article on an entirely different topic. There wasn’t – and hasn’t since been – an article related to the horror that sports can bring to family life, or to the literal dangers of fanhood.
In related news, last week the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice indefinitely for punching his wife out cold in an elevator, an event which was caught on CCTV cameras and released by gossip website TMZ. Before the video was released, a shorter version that “only” showed Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of the elevator provoked the NFL to suspend Rice for 2 games.
In response to widespread anger at the initial lenient penalty, the league has announced new rules, wherein a player who is the perpetrator of violence against a woman will be suspended for 6 matches for a first offence, and banned for life for a second. All of which makes more sense than the Ravens’ now infamous deleted tweet commenting on Rice’s wife Janay, saying “Janay Rice deeply regrets the role she played the night of the incident.”
In The Guardian, responding to people’s criticisms of Janay Rice’s choice to stay with and support her husband, Jessica Valenti argued: “I want Ray Rice to be punished for what he did, but what I want more is for Janay Rice to be heard – even if you don’t agree with what she’s saying or that she’s choosing to stay. No one knows her life better than she does, and if this outpouring of [domestic violence] stories should teach us anything it’s that the best thing we can do for survivors is listen to them. They will tell us what they need.”
In a world in which so many women cannot protect themselves from harm in their own home, our societies need to do everything possible to help ensure their support and their safety. Simply listening to what support they say need sure seems like a place to start.
Next time anyone tells you that sports don’t matter, agree with them wholeheartedly. Argue that the results of games are beautifully pointless and that most of us are but lucky to be permitted such potentially joyous diversions in our everyday lives. And then, remind them that not everyone is so lucky. Especially some women in the football towns of America.
May every home team who is expected to win be successful this weekend.
In Australia, 1800 RESPECT is a free, confidential national family violence and sexual assault counselling service. Those needing support can also look at other services on the Department of Human Services website.