#AdviceForYoungJournalists: There is no proper technique when asking a public figure about the worst moment of his life. Be polite, direct and have some empathy … even when asking a gracious man such as former NFL quarterback Warren Moon about domestic violence.
In 1995, Moon was accused of hitting and choking then-wife Felicia. What followed was a nasty trial, where his wife stood by her husband, and denied knowing how she got bruises and injuries that were shown in police photographs.
He was acquitted of all charges, but the suspicion was that something bad happened. Neither the NFL nor the Minnesota Vikings suspended the player who once had been its Man of the Year.
How to ask someone about this?
“Sure. Go ahead,” Moon said Monday night when he was at the Fort Worth Club for the Davey O’Brien Award ceremony. “It’s a very personal matter. It’s very hard to talk about sometimes because everyone’s situation is so different. If someone robs a bank, ‘OK, he robbed a bank.’ Everyone knows. When it comes to something like domestic violence, we don’t know all of the circumstances. It’s a very hard thing to police, and that’s why the NFL had such a hard time with it and what the penalty should be.”
Before the Ray Rice incident last fall, Moon was the highest-profile active NFL player to be accused of domestic violence. There was media coverage then, but nothing like the public executions that happen daily now on social media. If Moon’s case had happened today, he would have been suspended, at least, and demonized daily.
This week, various reports have surfaced that Rice can’t find a football job, despite being 28 with one or two decent running-back years left. It is evident that teams simply don’t want the stigma that comes with the name Ray Rice. If no team will give him a job, the NFL should offer him one as an adviser on domestic abuse.
The NFL can make domestic-violence commercials, issue six-game suspensions for offenders and say it cares, but no one is going to get anywhere on this issue until people start getting real. If you want to learn about this issue, don’t go to some counselor, therapist or professor who can bury you in theory and data. Go to the men and women who have experienced the hell that is a domestic dispute, and force people to listen to how it happens and how to avoid it.
Listen to a guy like Moon when he says: “Whenever anything arises like that — leave. Just leave.”
Not leave as in leave the relationship; just vacate the premises for a while. Unplug.
That’s practical advice. Ask any cop and he will often tell you his most dreaded call is a domestic dispute. Emotions are high. Rationality is gone. Anger is prevalent. In the case of a pro athlete, there is often the added element of competition.
“Most athletes are competitive, and they want to confront the situation,” Moon said.
Confront the situation, and win the situation.
“Yep. Everywhere. That’s how we are wired,” he said. “That’s why it’s a hard thing to tell a guy who is wired that way, to say, ‘Win here at all costs, but don’t win here.’ You have to teach a guy how to do that. It can be done. I learned how to do it. A lot of guys learned how to do it. You have to be taught that.”
Do not let the messenger distort the message. Whether you do not like Moon, or loathe Rice, is not the point. Don’t ignore what these men have to say. Their credibility should not be erased because of their acts, but buttressed because of their association with them. They know. They’ve been there.
Only because that video of Rice hitting his then-fiancee was made public did the NFL actually try to address an issue that it had previously ignored. But the six-game suspension for domestic-violence offenders does not prevent it and will create more issues than it will solve.
Violating the league’s policy on PEDs is black and white. Violating a domestic-violence policy is smeared in gray.
“Not every case deserves the same punishment because there are so many different degrees,” Moon said. “You can get in a shouting match with your significant other and that can be considered domestic violence. You can’t address it with a one-size-fits-all [punishment].”
Domestic violence is not some NFL or pro sports issue. Chances are good you know someone who has been affected by this — possibly it’s been in your own home. What should be the safest place on the planet — your house — can become the scariest.
“You do have to hold both people accountable, but the guy is going to come out as the villain no matter what,” Moon said. “You never know everything that is going on in someone else’s home, nor should you want to. It’s a very personal matter.”
NFL boss Roger Goodell offered up his suspension plan, and the league cut a few commercials, but everybody involved needs to get real about this. Listen to the experts — men and women — who have been there. Moon said Rice and his wife want to talk about this issue.
If no team wants to give Ray Rice a job, the league should have him talk to its players about domestic abuse.
He’s no counselor or therapist, but he is an expert.
Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697
Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog