The Gervonta Davis domestic violence story is sad and all-too-familiar | COMMENTARY

Baltimore's Gervonta "Tank" Davis looks on in the ring before his fight against Ricardo Núñez at Royal Farms Arena in July 2019.
Baltimore's Gervonta "Tank" Davis looks on in the ring before his fight against Ricardo Núñez at Royal Farms Arena in July 2019. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun)

So, a video goes viral showing a famous young athlete grabbing a woman near her neck and forcibly pulling her out of a crowded arena in Florida and it’s not hard to figure out the rest.

The angry young man is Baltimore native and World Boxing Association lightweight champion Gervonta Davis, and the young woman is the estranged mother of his child. He immediately goes on social media to insist “I never once hit her," and there is nothing in the viral video that proves he did, but this is the age of ubiquitous video surveillance and, as you might have guessed, there turns out to be more to this ugly story.


It took a few days, but Davis has been charged by police in Coral Gables with simple battery and domestic violence after a second video surfaced that, according to police, suggested he did hit his former girlfriend and she suffered facial injuries.

This is a sad and familiar story, of course, because the alleged abuser is a famous athlete and also because that’s the only reason we’re paying attention. It’s important to keep in mind that the victim is one of millions each year in this country, many of whom are afraid to report the abuse to authorities and few of whom have video evidence to support their claims. According to a 2015 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 43.6 million women in the U.S. experienced contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime. Of that group, 30.6% experienced physical violence, with 21.4% reporting severe physical trauma.

Since Davis is from Baltimore, it’s impossible not to see similarities to the 2014 hotel elevator incident that ended the playing career of Ravens star Ray Rice and turned an unflattering spotlight on the NFL’s inadequate response to a series of domestic abuse scandals. Whether there is any value in examining that parallel is open to debate, but if Davis was aware of the Rice incident — and it’s hard to imagine he wasn’t — he apparently didn’t learn anything from it.

What Davis and Rice have in common other than a connection to Baltimore is that they both have participated at the highest level of a “combat” sport that rewards testosterone-fueled aggression, so it’s easy enough to jump to the conclusion that boxers and football players are more likely to take that aggression home with them.

According to the USA Today NFL Arrests Database, the Rice incident was one of more than 100 documented domestic violence situations involving an NFL player since 2000. Yet it wasn’t until after public outcry over Rice’s initial two-game suspension that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell implemented a policy of six-game suspensions for players found to have committed abusive acts against a spouse or partner.

Floyd Mayweather Jr., perhaps the most famous and successful boxer of this century and, coincidentally, the guy who now manages Davis’ career, faced charges of domestic violence several times over the course of his career.

That anecdotal narrative might suggest a connection between violent sports and violent domestic incidents by the athletes who participate in them, but the problem with that is that it allows us to fool ourselves into thinking domestic abuse isn’t happening all around us … that it’s a dysfunction that is more prevalent in some segment of society other than our own.

While it’s true that studies have revealed higher arrest rates for domestic violence among NFL players than those in other professional team sports, a 2014 analysis of USA Today’s NFL Arrest Database by ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight concluded that those arrest rates were actually lower than that of the general population.

Though there have been plenty of domestic incidents involving high-profile boxers, researchers have been hesitant to forge a direct link to the sport because other demographic factors — most notably the significant percentage of boxers who have used the sport to rise out of difficult economic and family situations.

It is unclear how this incident will impact Davis’ career. The NFL ramped up its domestic abuse policy in the wake of the highly publicized domestic allegations involving Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, but boxing does not have one central governing body with the power to take a strong disciplinary stand against domestic violence.

Davis will almost certainly return to the ring. The bigger question is whether he takes a page from the Ray Rice playbook, assumes responsibility for his unacceptable behavior and gets the help necessary to assure that nothing like this ever happens again.

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