Why Did She Stay? The Mindset of an NFL Domestic Violence Survivor
People think its all glitz and glamour. You know, being married to or dating a professional athlete. They think the access, the gifts - trips, cars and shopping sprees- don’t come with a price. But they do. It all does. That life unfortunately comes at a very steep price. Whether its being in the limelight, sharing your man with desperate gold diggers, or keeping some of the darkest secrets for these beautiful, celebrated and idolized human creatures.
I dealt with it all, the women, the limelight and the secrets. I was the guardian of the secrets - not only secrets of my love but a guardian of the biggest secret. I was in an abusive relationship with one of the most celebrated and accomplished wide receivers in the National Football League. We knew each other as kids and he came from an abusive home, so I should have seen the flags, but I grew up with him. Those red flags that flash in our face to scare us away from danger, I ignored them, like many do.
I ignored them at the very first signs of abuse - the name-calling. I “could never be trusted” and “you are such a slutty bitch.” The first time my prince charming said those words to me, I was so hurt and confused. It followed a wonderful beach getaway and an amazing day at the spa together. See, I did not know these treats and gifts were given to make me forget or to make me stay. Either way, they temporarily numbed the pain and distracted me from the truth of who he was. I would still guard the secret.
The first time he choked me I was confused and afraid. My friends were in town and I kept it quiet. I was so afraid and so scared but I kept it quiet because I was ashamed that it happened. I couldn't figure out what I did wrong but I knew it had to be something for such a charming gentlemen to act out of character towards me. I thought through how I caused it or what I could do to make it better so it didn’t happen again. I loved him and he loved me. I needed to analyze what would make him do such a thing – and how I could address my own faults so it wouldn’t happen.
Then the NFL draft season came. Yes, the above happened while in college. Tensions were high and I was walking on eggshells. I just wanted to be supportive in every way because he needed me. He needed me to be by his side and keep him focused and calm. Once he was drafted, I was so relieved. I thought things would go back to normal, but they didn’t. They got worse.
We moved in together and the abuse happened again. We both had been out drinking and I woke up with a massive bruise from my lower back down my thigh to the back of my knee. I thought I had been hit by a car. I overheard him telling his brother that he “messed me up pretty bad.” I just cried. I didn’t know who to tell or what to do. I was so embarrassed this had happened to me. What did I say to make him harm me in such a horrific way? I wasn’t sure but a beautiful painting he had made of me followed it. It was his favorite picture of me. And he was so happy to put it in our “big house” when we got it. So I was contended that he was over the “big fight” and we just pretended like nothing ever happened.
This vicious cycle of abuse continued and were followed by trips to the mac store on our way to the airport for extravagant getaways. And following every vacation was a horrible fight. I was starting to realize this life came at a steep price. And the price was my safety, better yet my life. I began to think, “what if he accidentally hits my head too hard and I die.”
I began telling friends, but to my surprise they already knew. That’s why they weren’t coming around anymore because they couldn’t pretend that I wasn’t dating a monster. He told me he loved me, though. He told me he needed me. He told me he was sorry and I was making him act that way, so I knew I needed to change my behavior. You know, to keep him happy so he wouldn’t do these things to me. I hoped I could learn to "shut my mouth" and just not mess up then we wouldn't have any problems. If I continued to be "loyal" and not call the cops or tell people, that would prove to him that I was down for him and maybe he'd like me or respect me more and stop beating me.
The internet still maintains the pictures of me after he stabbed me in the thigh when he flew into a rage. Just went insane. I had pulled out a knife because he was beating me so much, that was my defense and he wrestled me with it and I was stabbed.
The beatings went on for years. Neighbors called the police, not me. I reported the abuse maybe three times I had to tell the truth when the police showed up. I was always afraid to call because he said if I called the police he would lose his career and I was more afraid of that than him hurting me. I knew if I was the cause of his career being jeopardized, he would probably kill me.
They told me to keep documenting. I reached out to his family for help, but they were afraid, too. They knew if they addressed him their financial gifts -allowances and homes and cars - would be taken away. So I reached out to the staff of his team for help. And his agent while on his private plane to games. Their main concern was keeping him out of trouble so they could keep him on the field. And his endorsements rolled in and fans cheered him. Those fans would be my nightmare.
The team didn’t help much except with getting him on an immediate flight every time we fought. I'd call them and they’d have him on the next flight, escaping the police. He was never punished, and I went through years of covering bruises hiding black eyes and just being completely alone. I went through years of pictures, documenting, and hoping that one day I could figure it out how to stop it from happening. It was all in my power.
We were scheduled to appear in court for another altercation. But we didn’t show up because we had reconciled. So, the charges were dropped.
The charges were dropped the one time I did press charges so that was more than discouraging. He came to court with his new fiancée, family and lawyer. His entourage was given the victim room and I sat in the hall with my family while they walked past what felt like a hundred times that day. The judge clearly sided with them – maybe it was a money/status/fame thing. But nevertheless, I still wasn’t supported even with my years of photos.
I eventually left. I had nothing and had to start my life from scratch. I left filled with extreme pain - mental and emotional damage developed and ingrained beginning in my youth. My esteem was so low. I didn’t feel worthy of anything. I went through years of depression seeing him continue his career and succeed even higher than when I was with him. He was never suspended for his actions, even when I reached out to the Commissioner of the National Football League. I was a nobody and no one was concerned with my feelings or my life. I couldn’t make a difference in the W/L column. I didn’t have stats.
I created a cycle for myself. Feeling worthless and clinging to the first man that said I was worthy. Well, it happened twice more. The charming knight, rescuing me, telling me he would never hurt me. Giving me the world so I don’t need anything or anyone but him. Then when I was in, the insecurities would surface, I couldn’t be trusted, and I wasn’t good enough and then “BAM!” - the physical abuse would start again. It was my normal. It was my conditioning. Abuse felt normal and of course, it must be me doing something to provoke them. That’s what they told me. That’s what I believed.
It’s hard for the women involved with these men. Athletes are so important to society and we do take the back seat to their careers. We sacrifice for them because we love them. We don’t want to be the person to ruin it for them – we want to be their partner, their teammate, their inspiration. We don’t want to be the person exposing their truths and potentially ripping their careers from them. We love them.
Society and the leagues create horrible perception of reality for these men. It seems the better they cover up their secrets and abusive ways the more they are rewarded on the field and in their bank accounts. They become more invincible and more abusive. As women we have to see the signs and run from those red flags before it becomes common in our lives and in the lives of our children. We are intuitive creatures for a reason. Forget love and forget loyalty. If a man harms you mentally emotionally or physically, they do not love you. They are controlling you and your life is worth more than that. Everyone’s life has equivalent value and no athletic superstar should be treated as superior.
At the end of the day, I’m left with one thought…if he would almost kill me while he was blessed with being an athlete in the NFL, I can’t begin to imagine what he would do if his career was taken from him and he had nothing to lose.
The (former) Girl of an Abusive Superstar