Women's Issues

Abused NFL Wives Discouraged From Speaking Out Because Football Trumps Women’s Safety

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Football playersAs is the case with our fast-moving culture of consumption, it feels like the Ray Rice abuse story has been all but forgotten. We’ve moved on to Kim Kardashian‘s oil-slicked ass and barely seem to remember anything about the NFL’s horrendous treatment of abused players’ wives. Luckily the NY Times is out with an exclusive piece today to remind us that this problem is vast, ongoing, and needs to be stopped.


The paper details the stories of Mercedes Sands and Brandie Underwood, two former wives of players who were encouraged by their husband’s teams, coaches, and fellow wives to keep their abuse on the DL, and not involve the police.

Mercedes Sands and her husband, Robert, a safety for the Cincinnati Bengals, started fighting early, just a few months after they were married. But when Ms. Sands drove her car into a neighbor’s house while trying to flee, knocking herself unconscious and prompting a visit from the police, the Bengals became alarmed.

Within days of the episode, in January 2012, the team’s head coach, Marvin Lewis, called a meeting at Paul Brown Stadium to try to help the couple work through their problems.

He offered encouragement, Ms. Sands said in an interview, telling them that young couples often fought and that they should seek counseling. He also advised them to reach out to the Bengals first if there were further problems because a call to the police could attract attention from the news media and cause an embarrassing distraction.

Underwood’s story is eerily similar. After she learned her husband Brandon was being investigated over sexual assault charges, she turned to fellow wives for comfort and advice. Instead, they told her to keep her mouth shut.

Amid the humiliation, Ms. Underwood began hearing from the wives of other players and coaches. They encouraged her to stand by Mr. Underwood.

One wife emailed her: “Nobody is perfect. Not u or me. We might not cheat or do dumb stuff like guys, but we do have flaws. Who is say that ours are better than theirs?”

Ms. Underwood found the reaction confusing. The attitude, she said, was that “we have to be strong for our men.”

She said she felt she had nowhere to turn. “You don’t really know who to call,” she said. “They are more worried about protecting a team’s name or player than a wife.”

Later, when her husband violently attacked her and threw her out of his car, she called police but was hesitant to press charges.

Underwood said she was afraid to involve law enforcement authorities — or even talk to team officials — for fear of jeopardizing her husband’s standing with the Packers.

In addition, both women feared leaving their husbands because they controlled their finances, and worried they’d have no means with which to support themselves. After Sands called the police on her husband for choking her while pregnant (he was arrested), he cleared out their bank account and she spent the rest of her pregnancy relying on food stamps. Underwood took her kids and left her husband with $100 in her purse, and waited tables to make ends meet.

Both stories highlight a much larger problem in the NFL, which is that the organization cares more about profit than they do about the safety of its women and families. These women are conditioned to think that if they speak out and seek help and protection from abuse, they will ruin their husband’s career and derail the team. Time and time again they are being told that their safety and well-being are less-than; that they should sacrifice it for the greater good of a money-making operation. And that is f**cked up.

We are in the thick of football season. Roger Goodell is still commissioner of the NFL. What change has come from Ray Rice pummeling his wife in an elevator, and the NFL’s subsequent cover up and victim-blaming? A new domestic violence policy in the league is a start, not a solution. These women deserve not just our support, but our voice and outrage. If thousands of fans can stand around screaming for their favorite team, than we should be able to do the same for these brave women.

(Photo: Shutterstock)