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What We in the Media Need to Learn from the Matt Barnes Story

At some point, Matt Barnes allegedly drove to his estranged wife’s house and physically assaulted her boyfriend, Derek Fisher, for being there. He is a man who had been arrested twice for domestic violence. Both times, the victim was Gloria Govan, his then fiancé, now ex-wife.

Per a New York Post from Ian Mohr, Barnes got a call in the middle of a practice and drove 95 miles to “beat the s*** out of Fisher. The Post cites a source that was present at the practice.

A man with a history of being charged with domestic abuse, whose wife has decided she wants out of the relationship, drove 95 miles to assault a man for dating her. This is stalker behavior. This is also the essence of the story without any twists, humor or spin added to it.

To be balanced, Barnes was never convicted of domestic abuse and has an alternate explanation for what happened, saying that he received a text and Facetime from his son and was concerned for his children. He says he drove 15 minutes, not 95 miles and that he left at 10 p.m., not the middle of practice.

But what exactly happened is moot for this article because it’s not about Barnes and how he’s a rotten, miserable excuse for a human being. Nor is it about how he was just being a great dad for rushing to his children’s rescue when they were in distress.

It’s about how the NBA media reacted to the brush of the story and how different it was from how the NFL would react. And when I say the NBA media, I’m not speaking “to” the media, as though I’m not as a member of it. This is a confession, not a condemnation.

Albert Burenko of Deadspin called out “sportswriters” for making light of the situation, writing:

Our sports culture is pretty slow on the uptake. Not quite 19 months after Ray Rice knocked his fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator and spawned a million earnest thinkpieces about America’s shamefully late-dawning awareness of domestic violence and misogyny in sports, a pro athlete enters the home of the woman he’s been accused of abusing to attack her current boyfriend for violating his territorial rights, and, well.

To be fair to the writers he called out, most of them were unaware of the history involved, and when they learned of it, they were quick to apologize. But that’s the precisely what the problem is. The NBA culture is oblivious to the situation in the NBA

It was so oblivious, in fact, that the Cleveland Cavaliers saw fit to run this promo in advance of their playoff series with the Chicago Bulls.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykPThaduers

Get it? He beat his girlfriend for being a Bulls fan and she learned her lesson! Oh! The hilarity!

Last season, when relative nobody Jeff Taylor was suspended 24 games for pleading guilty on domestic violence charges, Commissioner Adam Sliver dropped the hammer. But, it may have been largely political move, as evidenced by the history of suspensions provided by SB Nation’s Tom Ziller via Patricia Bender.

  • In 2014, Jared Sullinger was suspended one game by the Celtics after a domestic violence arrest. Charges were dropped.
  • In 2010, Lance Stephenson received no punishment after an arrest for — trigger warning — allegedly pushing his pregnant girlfriend down the stairs and kicking her in the face. No charges were brought.
  • In 2007, Ron Artest was suspended seven games for a no contest plea in a misdemeanor domestic violence case. Artest, of course, had prior run-ins with the league.
  • In 2003, Jason Richardson and Glenn Robinson were each suspended three games after conviction on misdemeanor domestic violence charges.
  • In 2002, Ruben Patterson picked up a $100,000 fine and no suspension when domestic violence charges were dropped after an arrest.

Note these are just the cases involving players being suspended, not accused and/or convicted. Note the absence of Barnes’ name on this list.

And if we’re being evenhanded about this we’d be remiss not to include Brittney Griner and Glory Johnson of the WNBA, who were suspended for their own instance of domestic abuse.

And there was a symmetrical story to this one from the NFL involving Greg Hardy.

Hardy, fresh off a four-game suspension for domestic abuse which involved allegations that he threw his girlfriend on a futon filled with automatic weapons, drew a ton of scorn and criticism from the media for his comments that he was going to “come out with guns blazing.”

Imagine what would have happened if Hardy had been accused of jumping into his car and driving 95 miles to assault an ex-teammate who was dating his ex-wife. Would the stories and defense about “bro code” have followed from the NFL media?

The NFL culture is much more conscience of the problems of domestic abuse precisely because of the Ray Rice situation. The reason the NFL media reacted differently to the Hardy news is that the NFL media knew about Hardy’s history. They were conscious of the issues, and that consciousness is what was lacking in the way many of us in the NBA handled the Barnes story.

Burenko’s criticism may have bee a little harsh and over the top because of that. But his underlying point is still fair. We in the media need to recognize the seriousness of such situations and be more aware. Hopefully, the NBA won’t need to go through a nightmare season like the NFL’s 2014 before it wakes up.

 

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