OPINION: The Deafening Silence of the NFL, Their Players, and Domestic Violence
“Chad Wheeler, former offensive tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, beats his girlfriend in a blind rage to the point that even he’s surprised to see her alive.” Unfortunately, these days, this type of headline isn’t shocking. It is almost commonplace within the professional football community, but the NFL doesn’t seem to care. Although the Seattle Seahawks attempted to address the situation, they could have done a lot more. And the NFL has yet to weigh in – but is that really surprising?
At 6”7’, 310-pounds, Wheeler choked, beat, and dislocated the arm of his 5”9’, 145-pound girlfriend until she lost consciousness. It isn’t the first time Wheeler has done something like this. And it’s certainly not the first time that the Seahawks and NFL are hearing about his behavior. During his time at USC, he had to be subdued by police with bean bag rounds after he barricaded his girlfriend and their baby inside an apartment while repeatedly punching the walls and windows. But, even with prior knowledge of that incident, the NFL continued to allow him to play for the New York Giants to kick off his professional career.
Citing a manic episode as a result of his bipolar disorder in his most recent statement, Wheeler attempted to apologize to the victim and her family. While Wheeler’s bipolar disorder is a serious mental health issue that needs to be addressed with the appropriate resources, it alone is not to blame for him becoming an abuser. Domestic abuse doesn’t begin out of thin air – it’s a gradual buildup of the abuser pushing their limits to see what they can get away with. They isolate their victims, use verbal and emotional manipulation, and leave marks that are easily hidden. As the feeling of control starts to set in, the abuse becomes even more physical. While it is true that his mental health issue should be carefully addressed, it should in no way excuse the crime he’s committed.
Why does the NFL allow this behavior to continue? Because skilled, popular athletes are their cash cow, so their actions off the field will always be overlooked. Historically, the NFL’s silence on this matter has been consistent. Only after a video of Ray Rice beating his girlfriend went viral and the public largely shamed the NFL, did they decide to take the matter seriously and create a teaching moment for their players. They updated their conduct policy, facilitated trainings, and even formed a group of domestic violence experts, all of which have faded into the past.
In the case of Chad Wheeler, the league should have swiftly adjusted its policies to indefinitely state that any player found to commit acts of domestic violence will be banned from football immediately. Instead, they’ll allow Tyreek Hill and Antonio Brown to step onto the field next week with multiple abuse and sexual assault allegations under their belts. And Wheeler? He took everything away from his innocent victim but remains a free agent with the opportunity to continue his career, should a team pick him up.
One in every three women and one in every four men will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. Even with the knowledge of these statistics, the NFL has made the poor decision to skim over this topic time and time again rather than use its platform for good. Domestic violence in the NFL will always remain a side issue to the talent and money that its players bring in.
The NFL, and Chad Wheeler, will be able to move on but the victims who have suffered from abuse at the hands of their players and lack of attention to this league-wide issue won’t.
If this type of violence is happening amongst those in the very public eye, such as professional athletes and celebrities, imagine what happens behind closed doors in our communities. The sad reality is that this happens to innocent people in our world every day. In 2020 alone, GBMC's Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) and Domestic Violence (DV) Program treated 293 patients for injuries consistent with domestic violence and abuse. The pandemic and current stay-at-home orders have only fueled the fire for this kind of behavior. So much so that the common hitting, slapping, and punching scenarios have escalated to broken jaws and orbital bones, brain bleeds, and increased weapon involvement.
The time is long overdue for our community to stop standing on the sidelines and work together to be part of the solution. Join us for the sixth annual Walk a Mile in Their Shoes on Saturday, April 17 at 9 a.m. This hybrid event features virtual and limited in-person registration options* as we walk together in solidarity to support those who have been affected by sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. All proceeds benefit GBMC’s SAFE/DV Program.
If you or someone you know is experiencing emotional abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, or any of the above situations, GBMC’s SAFE/DV Program is here – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to help. You are not alone. Visit www.gbmc.org/safe-dv for more resources or contact GBMC’s SAFE/DV Program at 443-849-3323.
*100% of the in-person event will take place outside with masks and social distancing required. Participation will be limited per the Governor’s orders of gatherings and we will be closely monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic to make the adjustments needed to keep our community safe.