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Columnist
Vick's story sick, but it's far from only one
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 8/22/2007 12:23 AM

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The Michael Vick story represents one of the most depraved and deplorable moments in sports history.

If you're not completely sickened yet, watch the current edition of HBO's "Real Sports,'' which spotlights the horrifying world of dog fighting.

And, yes, for the record, I love dogs.

But I love women and children, too, and have to admit to being stunned by the outrage over Vick's crimes in relation to the lack of protest over domestic violence by athletes.

Especially, when an abusive husband or boyfriend is unlikely to spend much -- if any -- time in jail, while Vick is thought to be going away for at least a year.

"What Michael Vick did is horrible, and I can't imagine anyone having any reaction other than that,'' said Leigh Goodmark, an associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, and director of its Family Law Clinic.

"I'm not suggesting we should care more about women than dogs or equate the two in any way, but it oversimplifies to say women have free will and dogs don't.

"The assumption that a battered woman can get up and leave with no ramifications is ridiculous. It flies in the face of everything we know about battered women.''

Meanwhile, the incidents in sports pile up by the dozens each year, and many pass quietly after an initial reaction.

The Rockies' Bobby Chouinard, for example, held a loaded gun to his wife's head and served a one-year sentence -- but in three-month increments during off-seasons.

Phillies pitcher Brett Myers allegedly dragged his wife around by the hair on a Boston street in front of witnesses. He still pitched the next day at Fenway Park, and was later granted a paid leave of absence.

The Buccaneers' Michael Pittman was indicted three years ago on two counts of aggravated assault for intentionally ramming his Hummer into a car carrying his wife and 2-year-old son.

It was the fourth time Pittman had been arrested on domestic-abuse charges, but his wife, Melissa, told police there were 30 or 40 others that she never reported.

Pittman got a three-game suspension.

There have been calls for Vick to be suspended for life.

"Penalties for animal abuse are still greater than penalties for domestic violence in some states,'' Goodmark said. "The Vick story has been the biggest in sports for two months, and I understand he's a big star, but (Carolina's) Rae Carruth was found guilty of conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend (in 2001), and after that you never heard much about it, or the need for more domestic-violence prevention in sports.''

According to endabuse.org, citing statistics from, among other sources, the U.S. Department of Justice, from 1 million to 3 million women per year are physically abused in the United States; on average, more than three women are murdered by husbands or boyfriends in this country every day; and homicide is the leading cause of death for pregnant women.

"The most dangerous moment in her life is when a woman leaves an abusive relationship,'' Goodmark said. "Physical abuse is part of the system of control, and when she says she's leaving, she's saying, 'You don't control me anymore.' That's the time he intensifies the abuse to ensure he doesn't lose control.

"The reality is many women do leave and many are abused or killed.''

It has been suggested that wives of rich athletes often don't press charges or leave their husbands because they don't want to give up the good life.

"There are a lot of reasons they don't leave, be it religious, housing, economics or children,'' Goodmark said. "Killing children is one of the ultimate expressions of hatred and control. He takes away the thing that matters more to her than anything else.

"The worst are the ones who kill the kids and leave the mom alive so that it hurts even more. Don't think that some of these women who don't leave haven't been told that if they leave, the husband or boyfriend will kill the children.

"It's just sad that with everything we know, someone would say that these women deserve what they get for staying.''

When pro wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and strangled his 7-year-old son before killing himself, nearly every story was about how steroids played a part in the violence.

There was no outrage over a murdered mom, over the death of an innocent child.

And a national survey of more than 6,000 American families found that 50 percent of men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.

The book "Pros and Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL'' reported the most prevalent crime among NFL players was domestic violence.

"As a sports fan, and as an advocate for battered women,'' Goodmark said, "it's hard to find a team to root for.''

This is in no way meant to diminish Vick's crime, but it seems fair to wonder why there's a conspicuous lack of outrage when we hear about athletes torturing women.

And whether a battered woman today matters less than a dog.

brozner@dailyherald.com