Basketball

Should Domestic Abusers Be Banned From The NBA?

Jeff Van Gundy says yes for two-time offenders, but he's ignoring some factors that make such an approach untenable

Basketball
AFP/Getty Images
Oct 05, 2016 at 12:53 PM ET

During ESPN’s broadcast of Tuesday night’s New York Knicks-Houston Rockets preseason game, Jeff Van Gundy staked out an extreme position vis-à-vis NBA players that commit acts of violence against women.

“My one suggestion going forward is, any felony committed against a woman should be a full-season suspension,” he said. “And on the second one, you’re gone.”

Van Gundy and Mark Jones were discussing Derrick Rose’s ongoing civil battery lawsuit, which has Rose and two of his friends accused of drugging and raping a woman. After declining to comment on the case because “I know nothing about the specifics there,” Van Gundy pivoted to a conference he’d attended on Tuesday hosted by the awareness-raising non-profit, A Call To Men, in which he heard a harrowing recording of a 911 call in which a woman screamed and begged for help.

“A woman is assaulted every nine seconds,” he said. “I mean, this is an epidemic.”

For Van Gundy, the eight-game suspension that Sacramento Kings point guard Darren Collison will serve after pleading guilty to domestic battery is an indication that, despite commissioner Adam Silver’s best efforts, the NBA isn’t doing enough.

“Let’s stop with trying to give out… because the one thing I learned today, it’s not a mistake,” he said. “It’s a choice. It’s a choice to commit a violent act, and I just think we’ve got to … it’s … eight games, he comes back. I just think we’ve got to do more instead of … like you said, the NBA’s always been on the forefront. Let’s be on the forefront of this.”

His passion and genuine sense of outrage are to be admired, and yes, he’s right: When an athlete returns, his or her apology is often framed as a “mistake.” Such was the case when Jose Reyes was signed by the New York Mets, even though he’d grabbed his wife by the throat and slammed her into a glass door. But as Cindy Southworth, the executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told the New York Times, the loss of one’s livelihood—as Van Gundy recommends in the event of a second offense—can make a victim of abuse less likely to go to the police.

“What we don’t want is for someone, the moment the police are called, is for an athlete to lose his entire career,” she said. “It would create huge, unfathomable pressure not to call 911 if they knew their loved one’s career would be in jeopardy.”.

The four-hour long seminar Van Gundy attended offered some real solutions, even if reforming both the judicial and law enforcement system is going to be a long, hard slog. It’s easy to see how his revulsion might lead him to conclude that a multi-billion dollar entertainment company like the NBA can do good via the swift, heavy hand of a banishment or the extraction of a (merited) pound of flesh, but it just isn’t so. Intimate partner violence remains both an underreported and under-prosecuted crime, but a pro sports league serving as a shadow judiciary won’t solve the problem, no matter how cathartic it might feel.

The full exchange between Van Gundy and Jones can be read below.