As 2014 drew to a close, we reflected back on a year in which the limelight of professional sports shifted, at least briefly, from shining on game-day heroics by incredible athletes to putting a spotlight on two terrible acts of domestic violence and child abuse. The glaring media focus on these acts has already dimmed and predictably returned back to the stadium but it served the purpose of shining a light, for all of America, on the chronic and intertwined problems of domestic violence and child abuse. It is up to all of us to not let the illumination on these twin social epidemics fade back into unspoken darkness -- as we look ahead to a brighter 2015, Alaska's professional athletes come together with community members in committing to stand united against domestic violence and child abuse all across our great state. The following athletes are proud to join in this commitment with all Alaskans:
Mark Schlereth* – former NFL player
Matt Carle - NHL player
Alev Kelter - member of Team USA's women's rugby
Mario Chalmers* – NBA player
David Registe - national champion long jumper
Lauren Murphy - world top 10 UFC fighter
Damen Bell-Holter – professional basketball player
Scott Gomez* – NHL player
Trajan Langdon* – former professional basketball player
Kikkan Randall* – Olympic cross-country skier
Ma'o Tosi – former NFL player
Aliy Zirkle – Iditarod musher
Carlos Boozer* - NBA player
(* -- denotes inductees to the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame)
Although it is cliche, the phrase "behind closed doors" really does help explain why domestic violence and child abuse are not discussed out in the open more often, since these incidents most often occur out of our sight. In 2014, however, a now-notorious act of domestic violence occurred behind doors that were designed not to remain closed -- elevator doors. When the doors tried to close, they sensed the prone body of a woman who had been knocked unconscious by a single blow to the head from her fiance -- and the doors automatically reopened. Thus, this horrible domestic violence assault could not remain "behind closed doors," as would typically happen, and, for a time, the attention of the media and the general public was concentrated on the pervasive issue of domestic violence in our society.
Likewise, a pro athlete father having physically abused his young son by hitting him with a stick and inflicting severe injury, under the guise of "corporal punishment," brought out into the media spotlight the widespread and long-standing problem of child abuse, both physical and mental. It is clear that he believed he was "disciplining" his son the same way that he had been "disciplined" as a child, i.e., hitting a child's bare skin with a tree branch "switch" resulting in acute, lingering physical injury.
Alaska's pro athletes know why it's more important than ever for us to stand together against domestic violence and child abuse as we look ahead to make a change for the better in 2015. Alaska's past statistics about these issues are more than chilling: 48 out of every 100 women have experienced intimate partner violence and, in 2012 alone, the Office of Children's Services received 16,988 reports of concern for child abuse, with 7,048 reports "screened in" for investigation.
Please join us in 2015, and beyond, by being part of Alaska's star team of athletes and community members standing united against domestic violence and child abuse.
Jan Rutherdale is chair of Alaska's Children's Justice Act (CJA) Taskforce, federally mandated to improve the handling of child abuse and neglect cases, particularly cases of child sexual abuse and exploitation. Lauree Morton is the executive director of the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (CDVSA), whose mission is to provide safety for Alaskans victimized or impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault. CJA and CDVSA wish to thank Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, for his assistance, and all of the pro athletes who lent their support.