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.
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.
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.
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.
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.