On Ray Rice, Domestic Violence and the NFL

The TMZ release of the Ray Rice assault video has sparked outrage all around the sports world. The outrage has been directed at both the horrible, now unambiguous actions of Ray Rice and the mishandling of the situation by the NFL league offices. Much has been written and said about the situation in the last 24 hours. Not nearly enough, however, has been written about domestic violence in general. Here’s hoping this is a start.

I am an Assistant Prosecutor in my hometown, a normal Midwest town. Currently, I am assigned to the domestic violence court in my hometown. I prosecute domestic violence cases on a daily basis. It’s been an illuminating experience. I had a normal, healthy childhood. I never witnessed domestic violence in my home. So I, like most others, never realized that it is a real problem. But it is. It’s a problem that plagues every community in the country– large or small.  The case of Ray Rice is a good reminder of that fact.

While every instance of domestic violence is unique to those involved in it, all domestic violence cases share similar characteristics and dynamics. Domestic violence is rarely an isolated incident. Rather, it is a series of events, both verbal and physical, which result in a cycle of violence.

Relationships mired in domestic violence generally begin small and escalate gradually. Abusers do not simply assault their partners. Abusers control their partners. Abusers use many different methods to control their partners. Money and children are among the most common methods of control. Power and control manifest themselves in many different ways, though, captured in the Power and Control Wheel created by domestic violence experts.

Abusers begin with verbal and emotional abuse. That escalates to physical violence. The physical violence escalates in degree. Eventually, the physical violence ends through either the termination of the relationship or the death of the victim. In my small Midwest hometown, there have been at least three murders in the past 12 months that are a direct result of domestic violence escalating to a fatal ending.

In between the abusive events, there are honeymoon periods. Abusers begin blaming victims for the abusive event occurring. Victims blame themselves. Abusers manipulate and intimidate victims into feeling responsible, minimizing the abuse, and ultimately recanting. I meet and speak with domestic violence victim on a near daily basis who recant and minimize the behaviors of their abusers. Victims then re-enter abusive relationships.  The cycle continues. The relationship becomes increasingly dangerous.

So how does all of this tie into the Ray Rice video? Understanding the dynamics of domestic violence allows us to provide better context for individual instances of domestic violence. The Ray Rice video shows a domestic violence incident that is, in all likelihood, not an isolated incident. Rice and his fiance engage in a verbal argument outside of the elevator. From there, they enter the elevator, the doors close, and Ray Rice proceeds to punch his fiance twice in the face until she falls unconscious. Rice then allows her unconscious body to lay in the elevator until the doors open and he drags her away.

These are not actions that are characteristic of a person who lost his temper and made a mistake. These are actions indicative of a calculated abuser. Rice doesn’t impulsively hit his fiance while outside of the elevator. He waits until they are seemingly in private and seriously assaults her. He doesn’t panic and check on her well-being immediately following the assault. He is calm. He shows no remorse. He appears to know what he’s doing.

And it’s not just that Ray Rice’s assault on his fiance doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident. His situation doesn’t seem to be all that unique among NFL players. Ray McDonald was recently arrested for a suspected felony domestic violence incident. Greg Hardy was recently found guilty of assaulting his former girlfriend while threatening to kill her. These incidents, too, are not indicative of being first-time, isolated incidents.

These incidents do, however, reflect the wide-spread epidemic that is domestic violence. No one watches a football player score a touchdown and think, “You know what, I wonder if he beats his wife.” But that is the sad reality in the world in which we live. Athletes, friends and family we admire engage in these abusive relationships every day, whether it be as an abuser or a victim. And we turn a blind eye. It’s about time that changed.

The NFL has a terrific platform to contribute to that sort of change. Shift the focus off from diseases like cancer, which already have real and significant public awareness, to something like domestic violence, which is currently under-reported and under-prosecuted.  The NFL doesn’t have to stop contributing to the causes it currently does.  There is plenty of money to go towards other worthy causes like domestic violence awareness.  Encourage domestic violence victims to report and follow through with cases.  Donate to centers that provide support networks for victims of domestic violence.  Correct the behavior of abusers, whether it be that of players, other employees, or fans.

Make a difference. The opportunity is there. Take it and run with it, NFL.

On Devin Gardner and Pre-Snap Reads

Devin Gardner, with some improvement, is potentially a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.  Where can he improve?  Well, Gardner himself identified an area a week ago in a radio interview:

“Before Coach Nuss got here, I never had to identify a MIKE … now I know where pressure’s coming from.”

The MIKE that Devin Gardner is referencing is the middle linebacker.  The MIKE is often the “captain” of the defense.  He puts everyone in the right place.  He’s defending the heart of the defense– the middle.  Reading where he is and what he’s doing will often tell you where pressure is coming from, if at all, and what type of coverage the defense is playing.  In 2013, Devin Gardner had a lot of  issues with making poor decisions when teams got pressure on him in passing situations.  Does making a pre-snap read on the MIKE linebacker matter that much?  Could it make those post-snap decisions easier?  Let’s take a look at a couple plays from the Michigan-Notre Dame game in 2013.

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Michael Sam: The Football Player

Much has been and will be written about the societal ramifications of Michael Sam’s announcement, and with good reason.  This post is dedicated, however, to Michael Sam’s ability to play the game of football and looking at how his game will translate to the NFL.

Many draftniks have knocked Michael Sam’s size as a reason for why he will or should be a fourth or fifth round pick.  Sam is absolutely not ideal sized for a 4-3 defensive end.  However, he makes up for his size with sound technique, great positioning and sneaky strength.

Let’s look at a few plays that show the things Michael Sam does very well.

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How Can Jadeveon Clowney Improve?

The reasons why Jadeveon Clowney is an elite prospect are easily recognizable.  Clowney is an athlete in every regard.  He is a menace on the edge despite being constantly double-teamed.  When you don’t block him at all, the resulting hit on your running back ends up on SportsCenter for months at a time.  He checks every box.

So is there something that he could work on to help his transition to the NFL?  His attitude and demeanor have been much discussed this year in the media, but we took a look at what he’s actually doing on the field.  And we found something other than clichés designed to take up segments on major networks.

Specifically, we looked at Clowney’s game against Clemson from this past year.  One thing that stuck out was Clowney’s issues with keeping contain on several occasions.

Film breakdown after the jump.

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Indianapolis Colts: Protecting Andrew Luck

In April 2012, the Colts drafted Andrew Luck and, in doing so, found another elite level franchise quarterback.  By January 2013, it became clear that the Colts needed to find a way to protect that asset.  In the 2012 season, the Colts offensive line gave up 112 quarterback hits, 21 more than any other offensive line.  Desperate to upgrade that number, the Colts signed Gosder Cherilus to a 5 year, $35 million contract and drafted 2 offensive linemen in the 2013 NFL Draft.

In addition to their offseason personnel moves, the Colts have made some adjustments in 2013 to help protect Andrew Luck.

Pictures after the jump.

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Manti Te’o: Overrated Prospect Pre-Alabama

Manti Te’o has drawn much criticism for his imaginary girlfriend and how he handled the entire situation.  Many have claimed that Manti dropped on draft boards because of the controversy.  But, maybe there’s another explanation: he was never as good as advertised.

I watched several videos of Manti Te’o before the Alabama game even occurred, and it became quite clear to me that Manti Te’o had several glaring deficiencies in his game.

1. He guesses way too much rather than reading plays and letting them dictate his actions.  His eyes are in the backfield on nearly every play.

2. He tries too hard to make the big play.  This gets him out of position quite a bit.  It doesn’t always backfire, but when ball carriers recognize the cut back lane vacated by Te’o, it results in long runs.

3. He tends to struggle with taking on blockers.  Ideally, you want your defenders to take on “half the man,” which means that they should be keeping one of their shoulders free so they can get off blocks and make a tackle.  Te’o doesn’t do this very well.

4. His tackling form is less than ideal.  He often lunges at ball carriers rather than keeping his head up and wrapping up like he is supposed to.

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