Late Wednesday night, TMZ posted a story on former NFL running back Zac Stacy attacking his ex-girlfriend, who also is the mother of his child. It explains over several hundred words that Stacy and his ex-girlfriend argued this past Saturday and it escalated. He hit her multiple times, causing her to fall back on to the nearby couch. He then picked her up and threw her against the TV. She fell to the floor, the TV toppling on top of her, all while their young child was nearby on the couch.
The woman called Orlando-area police right afterward, per TMZ, and went to a local hospital. On Monday, she filed a request for a restraining order. After the video was published, police told TMZ that they were providing “security assistance” to the woman. On Thursday evening, Stacy was arrested and will be charged with two felonies.
But it was not those details that made the story go viral. It was, as it usually is, the video.
As happens in these stories, the video quickly got ripped and widely circulated on social media, where people reacted with outrage and disgust. Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said, “Any man that puts his hands on a woman is a coward.” Former defensive end Chris Long said the video “made my stomach turn” and added, “Crazy to play [with] someone for a couple years & you have no idea what kind of bullshit they do at home.” Former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III said, “Beating up your woman doesn’t make you strong it makes you weak.”
I don’t want to downplay the importance of athletes or anyone with a significant following saying that intimate-partner violence is unacceptable. It is a step forward from when this subject, like all gender violence, remained largely verboten, though there are still plenty of spaces, both within and beyond sports, where sexual assault, intimate-partner violence, and emotional abuse remain unspoken of, or at least downplayed as necessary hazing, or bullying, or simply the price that human beings must pay.
But I cannot escape the knowledge that it took video, and a certain type of video.
Before this week, even if you were an NFL fan, you probably didn’t remember Zac Stacy. He had an average NFL career for his position, meaning just three seasons in the league. In his first season with the Rams he rushed for 973 yards, followed by 293 yards. He got traded to the Jets, where he logged just 89 yards in eight games before fracturing his ankle. He got cut, then he retired. In the grand scheme of the daily matters of the NFL, another billion-dollar United States conglomerate churning through bodies it batters for profit and then disposing of them, his career was not big news. I didn’t remember him at all until Thursday morning, when my Twitter feed became filled with people either tweeting the video of him attacking his ex-girlfriend or explaining why they were not tweeting the video of him attacking his ex-girlfriend.
When digital cameras became affordable, there was talk that they might be able to help with the prosecution of intimate-partner violence cases and, in turn, that would help reduce the violence. In 2007, a Queens assistant district attorney told the New York Times: “When you’re in front of a judge, you describe the injuries written in the complaint, the bruising, the swelling, the blood. But until a person sees another human being with those injuries, with the swelling, the blood, the bruising, it’s hard to get that point across.”
Digital cameras did not usher in some sort of revolution reducing intimate-partner violence. Zoom out, and the answer remains that criminalization of intimate-partner violence, like the criminalization of many forms of violence, has done very little to stop the violence. Digital photos and video are a new tool, but the fundamental tension remains with the many ways our country and culture encourage or at least condone violence while our criminal justice system not only fails to reduce the harm, but replicates and encourages it.
So what has video of intimate-partner violence brought us? It has brought us public outrage, and a few times actual consequences. You can add the Stacy video to the macabre collection of intimate-partner violence images that includes Chad Wheeler, Greg Hardy, Larry Baer, and Ray Rice. But this doesn’t feel like sweeping progress to me. Before, a person had to worry about being the right kind of victim, the kind police would hear out, the kind prosecutor would believe, the kind a jury would find credible. Now, a person has to worry about being the right type of victim online. Do they have video? Is it graphic? Is it horrifying? Will it go viral? The fundamental question—am I the right kind of victim?—has not changed. Only how that question is answered.
That’s why, while you were reading about Stacy, you probably did not read about this: On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune reported that Bears defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. has been sued by a woman who said he became violent with her when she refused to have sex with him. This news, which did not include photos or a video, did not go nearly as viral.
I know the solutions to intimate-partner violence, to all violence, are myriad. They vary from community to community, person to person. They involve policies and procedures our government is loath to pursue and require money they’d rather invest in guns and bombs. They definitely do not involve more criminalization, more law enforcement, or more zero-tolerance policies. So much must be repaired and repaid and thinking about it all can be overwhelming, a dangerous route to feeling helpless, which is of no use at all. Because only the persistent pressure from activists, organizers, and supporters can lead to systemic change.
But for today, I am thinking about everyone who does not have video. Who does not have photos. Who does not have witnesses. Who was too ashamed to tell anyone. Who knows there is no point in speaking out because nobody will believe them. An agency of our own government estimates that about one in four women and one in 10 men experience some form of violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. Our country is awash in gender violence and that is true no matter the day of the week, whether it involves an athlete or not, and regardless of if there’s viral video. And when there’s not, an awful lot of people can’t be bothered to care.
If you or someone you know needs help, the National Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached at 1-800-799-7233 or by clicking here.