Archive for the ‘Celebrity Abusers’ Category
This article was originally posted on The Telegraph ( link below)
By Erin Conway-Smith, Johannesburg
Oscar Pistorius has been given new privileges in prison, including the right to wear jewellery, own a radio and have physical contact with visitors, as the double amputee sprinter serves a five-year sentence for killing his girlfriend.
Pistorius is said to have settled into life at Pretoria’s maximum security Kgosi Mampuru II prison, where he could serve just 10 months before being released to house arrest.
In October, Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide in the death of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day 2013, after mistaking her for an intruder and firing four bullets through a lavatory door.
Don Lemon’s special, “The Cosby Show: A Legend Under Fire,” airs on CNN tonight at 9 ET.
(CNN) — It’s as if the other Bill Cosby never existed.
You remember the other Bill Cosby. For a long time, he was the only Bill Cosby.
He was a groundbreaking comedian, famed for his shaggy-dog storytelling on routines such as “Noah” and “To Russell, My Brother, Whom I Slept With.” He worked clean, even when other comedians went blue.
He was “television’s Jackie Robinson,” the first African-American to star in a dramatic role on TV, and he earned three Emmys for his work on “I Spy,” the series on which he broke the barrier.
Cosby accuser: ‘I want him to suffer’
He was a promoter of education and values through “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” (“if you’re not careful, you may learn something”) and his philanthropy. He was an amusing, trusted pitchman, known for Jell-O and Coca-Cola commercials. He was a beloved TV father, the patriarch of “The Cosby Show.”
He was wealthy; he was generous; he was admired.
Who is Bill Cosby now?
In recent weeks, the news has provided a steady drip-drip-drip of rape accusations against the 77-year-old comedian. At least 20 women have spoken out to various media outlets, accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct. Many of the accusations date back decades.
Bill Cosby facing litany of allegations
Cosby has lost concert bookings and had a proposed NBC show scuttled and a concert movie premiere postponed. TV Land yanked the “Cosby Show” reruns from its lineup. He’s cut ties with his beloved Temple University, where he served on the board. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame was defaced. Even the Navy revoked an honorary title granted Cosby in 2011.
It should be noted that Cosby has never faced a judge or jury, let alone been convicted, over the allegations. His camp has repeatedly and vigorously denied them.
It defies common sense that “so many people would have said nothing, done nothing, and made no reports to law enforcement or asserted civil claims if they thought they had been assaulted over a span of so many years,” said Cosby’s attorney, Martin D. Singer, in a written statement sent to CNN.
But it’s clear that many people have already tried Cosby in their minds.
“The court of public opinion has cost him all of his projects,” said Michael Bilello, who heads Centurion Strategies, a PR and crisis-management shop. “His inactions, his mishandling of PR, his legal maneuvering — those are characteristics you do not want to display, especially when you’re accused of rape.”
The suddenness of Cosby’s tumble reminds Bilello of the downfall of Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. For 50 years, Paterno was venerated as “Joe Pa,” a figure of such rectitude and honor that the college built a monument to him. Then, as the sexual abuse charges against his former assistant Jerry Sandusky accumulated, Paterno was accused of a cover-up and fired. He died two months later. His statue was later removed from campus.
“Cosby’s looking at the same sentence,” Bilello said. “He’s looking at this overshadowing everything he’s done simply because there is guilt by assumption.”
‘This story keeps just getting told’
Cosby is far from the first celebrity to be lowered, fairly or unfairly, from his pedestal.
In the 1920s, silent film star Fatty Arbuckle — one of the most influential comedians of his day, a mentor to Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton — was accused of rape and manslaughter in the case of an actress, Virginia Rappe, who had attended a party for Arbuckle.
The case was tried three times. The first two trials ended in hung juries. Arbuckle, then 35, was acquitted in the third — the jury even gave him a written apology — but the damage was done: His reputation was shattered, his films were temporarily banned, and he had to take a pseudonym to find work. He died while attempting a comeback in the early ’30s.
More recently, there is the case of Michael Jackson. In 2003, the singer was accused of child molestation, conspiracy and alcohol charges. Eighteen months later, a jury exonerated him. However, despite the court’s decision, allegations of sexual abuse followed Jackson right up to his death in 2009.
What makes the Cosby situation even more challenging is that there has been no day in court, says Syracuse popular culture professor Robert Thompson.
“There was a trial (in Michael Jackson’s case). Evidence was presented; process was gone through,” he said. “Here, this story keeps just getting told, and it keeps getting told with very little new information.”
In addition, Cosby is more than an entertainer, Thompson observes. He’s also been an educator and a moralist, using his fame to promote schooling and propriety.
In that respect, says Thompson, the fall of Cosby can be compared to that of evangelists Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, who were brought down by scandals in the late 1980s. Swaggart was defrocked by his denomination; Bakker was convicted of fraud and served time. Though both resumed ministries, neither has the power or following they did 30 years ago.
‘What do you say?’
However, those events all predated the social media age, which has kept Cosby’s situation on the front page when it conceivably could have vanished down the memory hole. A handful of accusers first went public almost 10 years ago, in 2005, after Cosby was named by a Temple University staffer, Andrea Constand, in a civil suit.
But it was a viral video by comedian Hannibal Buress that brought the Cosby story out of the shadows, and it was an attempt at creating memes — proposed by Cosby’s own Twitter account — that made it widespread.
It’s shaken up many who normally would be defending a man who they greatly respect. In fact, with a handful of exceptions — notably Jill Scott and Ben Vereen — Cosby has received little support among entertainers, though many of them are reserving judgment.
“I don’t know what to say. What do you say? I hope it’s not true. That’s all you can say. I really do,” Chris Rock told New York magazine. “I grew up on Cosby. I love Cosby, and I just hope it’s not true. It’s a weird year for comedy. We lost Robin (Williams), we lost Joan (Rivers), and we kind of lost Cosby.”
Cedric the Entertainer agreed. In an “Entertainment Tonight” interview on the red carpet for Rock’s movie “Top Five,” he expressed both admiration and sadness.
“We all grew up on him, and we know and respect him, not just as a comedian but for the things that he’s done outside of comedy, with the colleges and giving back (to the community) and spending his money where his mouth is,” he said. “But if the allegations have any truth to them, you want the truth to come out. You want justification for all the people. That’s all you can really say. It’s an unfortunate scenario.”
Jerry Seinfeld was brief.
“It’s sad and incomprehensible,” he said.
At least one comedy celebrity has become notably anti-Cosby. Judd Apatow, the writer and director of such films as “Knocked Up” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” attacked Cosby on his Twitter feed.
“I have numerous personal connections to this situation and the victims. I think he is a coward and clearly a sociopath,” Apatow wrote November 26.
It’s shaken up some journalists too, prompting many to offer mea culpas for not asking Cosby about the allegations.
Author Mark Whitaker, a former CNN managing editor who wrote a recent biography of Cosby, apologized for not including the accusations in his book. Ta-Nehisi Coates, who wrote a long piece grappling with Cosby’s conservatism in 2008, recently wrote that he should have included more than “a brief and limp mention” of the allegations. And The New York Times’ David Carr wrote that he should have asked Cosby about the accusations when interviewing him for an in-flight magazine.
Carr believes there’s no repairing the damage to Cosby’s reputation.
“For decades, entertainers have been able to maintain custody of their image, regardless of their conduct,” he concluded. “Those days are history. It doesn’t really matter now what the courts or the press do or decide. When enough evidence and pushback rears into view, a new apparatus takes over, one that is viral, relentless and not going to forgive or forget.”
‘He has to engage the public’
Is there any way for Cosby to restore his name?
Except for a short exchange with a South Florida publication, he has been silent on the matter — literally so, in the case of a response to NPR’s Scott Simon.
Bilello believes that Cosby is beyond the standard media apology tour, usually capped by a visit to Oprah Winfrey’s couch. Cosby has been hurt by social media, he says, and only social media will save him.
“If he wants to have his final chapter written the way he wants to be recalled, he has to engage the public,” he said. “Perhaps something social media-based, an open forum for maybe two hours, taking all questions — and having a moderator who’s not a celebrity.” A Reddit AMA, say, or a live chat.
On the other hand, 15 Minutes Public Relations’ Howard Bragman says Cosby should just stay quiet.
“He should shut the f*** up!” Bragman told TheWrap. “He should have his lawyers shut the f*** up and his PR people shut the f*** up.”
Cosby does run the risk of becoming a sad punchline, says Thompson. He’s seen it happen. When he shows “Roots” in his television history classes, his students burst out laughing when O.J. Simpson enters the picture.
“The entire mode of the show can’t proceed,” he said. “O.J. completely trumps everything else that’s been happening in the episode.”
Either way, says Thompson, Cosby is already fading into history. His college students know the comedian as “a grumpy guy” more familiar from parodies than from his actual work. After all, Dr. Cliff Huxtable, the fatherly Cosby of “The Cosby Show,” left the air in 1992 — more than two decades ago.
“Talk to a 20-year-old (about Cosby), and they think, ‘Oh, that’s really creepy, that old guy was hitting on women,’ but they don’t feel about Cliff Huxtable the way people a little older do,” he says.
Cosby doesn’t have to do anything, of course. For civil claims, the statute of limitations has expired for many of the claims about him, though it varies from state to state, observes Cornell law professor Cynthia G. Bowman. The statute of limitations also varies widely for criminal claims, she adds, but it would be “extremely difficult to reconstruct events,” never mind prove anything so many decades later.
Cosby also remains one of America’s wealthiest entertainers. He can return quietly to private life and enjoy the rest of his days in seclusion, if that’s what he desires. He has about two dozen concert appearances still scheduled, but after a May date in Atlanta, there’s nothing on his calendar.
Still, without a final word, Cosby goes from perceived hero to Greek-level tragedy. His circumstance brings to mind “The Natural’s” Roy Hobbs, the exalted fictional baseball star who, in Bernard Malamud’s novel, is left in ruins.
As the book ends, Hobbs buys a newspaper and reads of his demise.
“And there was also a statement by the baseball commissioner. ‘If this alleged report is true, that is the last of Roy Hobbs in organized baseball. He will be excluded from the game and all his records forever destroyed.’
“Roy handed the paper back to the kid.
” ‘Say it ain’t true, Roy.’
“When Roy looked into the boy’s eyes he wanted to say it wasn’t but couldn’t, and he lifted his hands to his face and wept many bitter tears.”
Like most Americans, I spent the 60s, 70s, and part of the 80s in awe of Bill Cosby and his total domination of popular culture. He was the first African American to star in a dramatic television series, I Spy, a show my family in Buffalo, New York, always watched. Cosby cut a striking figure on-screen then. He was funny, smart, and even elegant—all those wonderful things many white Americans didn’t associate with people of color. In fact, as I thought of going public with what follows, a voice in my head kept whispering, “Black men have enough enemies out there already, they certainly don’t need someone like you, an African American with a familiar face and a famous name, fanning the flames.”
Imagine my joy in the mid-80s when an agent called to say Bill Cosby wanted me to audition for a role on the The Cosby Show. Cosby played an obstetrician, and he sometimes used models to portray pregnant women sitting in his office waiting room. It was a small part with one or two speaking lines at most, but I wanted in.
I was in the midst of an ugly custody battle for my only child. I needed a big break badly and appearing on The Cosby Show seemed like an excellent way of getting Hollywood’s attention. I’d appeared in one or two movies already, but my phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook with acting jobs.
Cosby’s handlers invited me to a taping of the show so I could get the lay of the land and an idea of what my role required. After the taping I met all the cast and then met with Cosby in his office to talk a bit about the hell I’d been through in my marriage. He appeared concerned and then asked what I wanted from my career going forward. He seemed genuinely interested in guiding me to the next level. I was on cloud nine.
I brought my daughter to the next taping I attended. Afterward, Cosby asked if I could meet him at his home that weekend to read for the part. My ex-husband had primary custody of my daughter at the time, and I usually spent my weekends with her. Cosby suggested I bring her along, which really reeled me in. He was the Jell-O Pudding man; like most kids, my daughter loved him. When my daughter and I visited Cosby’s New York brownstone, his staff served us a delicious brunch. Then he gave us a tour of the exceptional multi-level home.
Looking back, that first invite from Cosby to his home seems like part of a perfectly laid out plan, a way to make me feel secure with him at all times. It worked like a charm. Cosby suggested I come back to his house a few days later to read for the part. I agreed, and one late afternoon the following week I returned. His staff served a light dinner and Bill and I talked more about my plans for the future.
After the meal, we walked upstairs to a huge living area of his home that featured a massive bar. A huge brass espresso contraption took up half the counter. At the time, it seemed rare for someone to have such a machine in his home for personal use.
Cosby said he wanted to see how I handled various scenes, so he suggested that I pretend to be drunk. (When did a pregnant woman ever appear drunk on The Cosby Show? Probably never, but I went with it.)
As I readied myself to be the best drunk I could be, he offered me a cappuccino from the espresso machine. I told him I didn’t drink coffee that late in the afternoon because it made getting to sleep at night more difficult. He wouldn’t let it go. He insisted that his espresso machine was the best model on the market and promised I’d never tasted a cappuccino quite like this one.
It’s nuts, I know, but it felt oddly inappropriate arguing with Bill Cosby so I took a few sips of the coffee just to appease him.
Now let me explain this: I was a top model during the 70s, a period when drugs flowed at parties and photo shoots like bottled water at a health spa. I’d had my fun and experimented with my fair share of mood enhancers. I knew by the second sip of the drink Cosby had given me that I’d been drugged—and drugged good.
BY DAVID COOPER/TORONTO STARBill Cosby in 1978.
[Editor’s Note: Cosby’s attorneys did not respond to Vanity Fair’s requests for comment.]
My head became woozy, my speech became slurred, and the room began to spin nonstop. Cosby motioned for me to come over to him as though we were really about to act out the scene. He put his hands around my waist, and I managed to put my hand on his shoulder in order to steady myself.
As I felt my body go completely limp, my brain switched into automatic-survival mode. That meant making sure Cosby understood that I knew exactly what was happening at that very moment.
“You are a motherfucker aren’t you?”
That’s the exact question I yelled at him as he stood there holding me, expecting me to bend to his will. I rapidly called him several more “motherfuckers.” By the fifth, I could tell that I was really pissing him off. At one point he dropped his hands from my waist and just stood there looking at me like I’d lost my mind.
What happened next is somewhat cloudy for me because the drug was in fuller play by that time. I recall his seething anger at my tirade and then him grabbing me by my left arm hard and yanking all 110 pounds of me down a bunch of stairs as my high heels clicked and clacked on every step. I feared my neck was going to break with the force he was using to pull me down those stairs.
It was still late afternoon and the sun hadn’t completely gone down yet. When we reached the front door, he pulled me outside of the brownstone and then, with his hand still tightly clenched around my arm, stood in the middle of the street waving down taxis.
When one stopped, Cosby opened the door, shoved me into it and slammed the door behind me without ever saying a word. I somehow managed to tell the driver my address and before blacking out, I looked at the cabbie and asked, as if he knew: “Did I really just call Bill Cosby ‘a motherfucker’?”
Why that was even a concern of mine after what I’d just been through is still a mystery to me? I think my mind refused to process it.
The next day I woke up in my own bed after falling into a deep sleep that lasted most of the day. I had no memory of how I got into my apartment or into my bed, though most likely my doorman helped me out.
I sat in there still stunned by what happened the night before, confused and devastated by the idea that someone I admired so much had tried to take advantage of me, and used drugs to do so. Had I done something to encourage his actions?
In reality, I knew I’d done nothing to encourage Cosby but my mind kept turning with question after question.
It took a few days for the drug to completely wear off and soon I had to get back to work. I headed to California for an acting audition. Not long after arriving, I decided I needed to confront Cosby for my own sanity’s sake. I thought if I just called him, he would come clean and explain why he’d done what he had.
I dialed the private number he’d given me expecting to hear his voice on the other end. But he didn’t answer. His wife did. A little shocked, I quickly identified myself to her in the most respectful way possible and then asked to speak to Bill. Camille politely informed me that it was very late, 11:00 P.M. and that they were both in bed together.
I apologized for the late call and explained that I was in Los Angeles and had forgotten about the three-hour time difference. I added that I would call back tomorrow.
I didn’t call back the next day or any other day after that. At a certain moment it became clear that I would be fighting a losing battle with a powerful man so callous he not only drugged me, but he also gave me the number to the bedroom he shared with his wife. How could I fight someone that boldly arrogant and out of touch? In the end, just like the other women, I had too much to lose to go after Bill Cosby. I had a career that would no doubt take a huge hit if I went public with my story and I certainly couldn’t afford that after my costly divorce and on going court fees.
For a long time I thought it was something that only happened to me, and that I was somehow responsible. So I kept my secret to myself, believing this truth needed to remain in the darkness. But the last four weeks have changed everything, as so many women have shared similar stories, of which the press have belatedly taken heed.
Still I struggled with how to reveal my big secret, and more importantly, what would people think when and if I did? Would they dismiss me as an angry black woman intent on ruining the image of one of the most revered men in the African American community over the last 40 years? Or would they see my open and honest account of being betrayed by one of the country’s most powerful, influential, and beloved entertainers?
As I wrestled with the idea of telling my story of the day Bill Cosby drugged me with the intention of doing God knows what, the faces of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and countless other brown and black men took residence in my mind.
As if I needed to be reminded. The current plight of the black male was behind my silence when Barbara Bowman came out to tell the horrific details of being drugged and raped by Cosby to the Washington Post in November. And I watched in horror as my longtime friend and fellow model Janice Dickinson was raked over the coals for telling her account of rape at Cosby’s hands. Over the years I’ve met other women who also claim to have been violated by Cosby. Many are still afraid to speak up. I couldn’t sit back and watch the other women be vilified and shamed for something I knew was true.
When I sat down to write my memoir in 2013, I pondered if I should include my Cosby experience. I didn’t want to get involved in a he-said/she-said situation. Now that other women have come forward with their nightmare stories, I join them.
Finally, I reached the conclusion that the current attack on African American men has absolutely nothing to do at all with Bill Cosby. He brought this on himself when he decided he had the right to have his way with who knows how many women over the last four decades. If anything, Cosby is distinguished from the majority of black men in this country because he could depend on the powers that be for support and protection.
I had to use my voice as a sister, mother, and grandmother, and as a woman who knows that, according to the C.D.C., nearly one in five women has been sexually assaulted at some time in her life, and that women of color face an even higher attack rate.
In part because of what happened to me nearly 30 years ago, I have agreed to serve on the board of the Barbara Sinatra Center for Abused Children. The experience has been as humbling as it has been rewarding. Many of the young children I work with have been sexually abused and I watch in awe of their bravery as they work to recover and feel better.
How could I be any less brave?
Beverly Johnson was a top model during the 70s and 80s and was the first African American woman to appear on the cover of American Vogue in 1974.
For battered NFL wives, a message from the cops and the league: Keep quiet / The Washington Post-By Simone Sebastian and Ines Bebea
Whenever Dewan Smith-Williams sees Janay Rice on television, she feels like she’s looking into a mirror. Smith-Williams, 44, remembers the denial, the secrecy, the sense of isolation, the shame. But most of all, she remembers the fear of ruining her husband’s career as a National Football League player — the feeling that coming forth, or seeking justice, would destroy her four children’s financial security. She understands that struggle not only because she, too, was a domestic-violence victim, but because she watched so many other NFL wives, many of them her friends, go through the same nightmare. For each of them, it began with their husbands’ attacks and worsened with a culture that, they felt, compelled silence.
“We’ve told agents about it, called the NFL Players Association when things were really, really bad,” Smith-Williams recalls. “They would say, ‘Oh, we’re really sorry that you are going through this. We’ll look into it.’ But you never heard back. There’s no one available for the wives.”
She and another former NFL wife describe an insular and intensely secretive organization, where loyalty extends only in one direction – everyone protects the NFL brand, but the NFL protects its own interests over everything else. The culture is passed down more by example than diktat. Wives new to the league watch older ones suffer from abuse in silence, and they mimic the behavior. Often, wives and girlfriends confide in each other, but when they do, their advice is to stay quiet, say the two women, one of whom declined to let her name be printed because her ex-husband is still associated with the league.
It’s counterintuitive to the outside world: Women should leave their abusers, and their abusers should be punished. But the NFL is a unique universe with an overwhelmingly male workforce whose members are lionized in the press and in their communities; a we’re-all-in-this-together ethos; and incentives for the managers, coaches, and union reps to keep negative stories under wraps. Going to authorities, whether police or hospitals, means social exclusion and, more importantly, negative media attention that could end your husband’s career. Justice imperils their belonging and their livelihood.
The wives, whose husbands ended their playing careers in the 2000s, say they knew of no safe alternative — no liaison to players’ families, no counselor, and no procedure for reporting abuse. In fact, the league rarely communicates with wives at all, on issues serious or benign, even though a great number of them don’t work and are dependent on their husbands, they say. The NFL did not answer several requests for comment about league culture or how officials interact with players’ wives. Teri Patterson, deputy managing director and special counsel to the NFL Players Association, says her organization beefed up its communication with wives after she arrived in 2009. The NFLPA now holds meetings for players and their wives in 10 cities each year, plus up to five others at special events like the Super Bowl. (There are 32 teams in the league, meaning only one-third of them have access to the sessions each year.)
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, just one-quarter of the 1.3 million American women assaulted by an intimate partner each year report the attacks to the police. But the two wives interviewed for this article claimed the rate of reporting among NFL wives and girlfriends is much lower. They say the league has built a tight-knit culture, similar to a fraternity, with entrenched hierarchies and a fierce sense of loyalty among members. “You get brainwashed. It’s so ingrained that you protect the player, you just stay quiet. You learn your role is to be the supportive NFL wife,” says one of them, the onetime wife of a Saints player who asked to speak anonymously because her now ex-husband is still associated with the league. Otherwise, she says, “You’d cost him his job.”
For that reason, few of them have felt comfortable telling their stories in the press. But the example of Janay Rice moved two of them to describe what they had gone through and what they had seen — namely, the way they thought the NFL, the NFLPA, and local law enforcement abandoned them after their husbands’ abuse. Since they began telling The Washington Post their stories, they also spoke with other NFL wives who went through similar situations but didn’t want to come forward, they say. These accounts help explain why.
During the decade when her husband, offensive lineman Wally Williams, played in the league, Smith-Williams says that the overwhelming majority of the NFL wives she talked to quietly suffered from some kind of spousal abuse. One showed up on her porch barefoot and crying one night. Others came to indoor team events in sunglasses. Other times, they opened up to her and other wives in the league about their experiences with domestic abuse. But as in any tight-knit organization, players’ family lives rarely stayed private, she says. Coaches and general managers didn’t need to be told directly to know which players were having trouble at home.
Yet they habitually overlooked the league’s systemic domestic abuse problem, she says, an experience in line with the story former Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo described to USA Today last week, when he told a reporter that teams failed to punish players in “hundreds and hundreds” of domestic-violence episodes during his three-decade-long career. Later, he took back his comments after others in the league criticized him. (USA Today has not retracted the story.)
In rare cases when women did muster the courage to notify law enforcement, police officers appeared to tolerate players’ bad behavior. “When the cops would come, they just said we needed some time apart, and they would talk to [Wally] about football,” Smith-Williams recalls. “The police tell you, ‘You don’t want this in the news.’ I have things that happened in my life that there is no record of.”
Wally Williams denied the domestic-abuse allegations in this story and declined to comment on any specific claims.
Smith-Williams, who now lives separately from her husband but is still married to him, says she was pushed, grabbed and held by the throat early in her tumultuous 16-year marriage to Williams. During that time, the NFL was a constant presence in their lives, and she received clear messages from the head coach not to air the league’s dirty laundry — even to the cops.
In 2001, two years before Williams retired from the sport, police responded to an alarm at their empty New Orleans-area home and found marijuana on a table. Head Coach Jim Haslett, who lived in the neighborhood, heard about the incident and left a note at their home warning them to call him before talking to anyone else. Haslett, the most important authority figure in their lives, later met them at their home and told them to keep quiet, Smith-Williams says. She says she originally offered to take the fall and tell authorities the marijuana was hers, to protect Wally’s public image and career. Haslett told her it wouldn’t work. “He said, ‘They don’t want you. They want him,’” she recalls. “He said, ‘Don’t talk to the media. Don’t talk to the police. We will handle it.” It was a message that would stay with her.
Soon after, an attorney for the league contacted the couple to tell them Wally would be arrested. Smith-Williams says she doesn’t know what happened behind the scenes after he posted bail, but ultimately, her husband was never charged. The NFL put him under supervision and assigned him a liaison to help him stay out of trouble.
The Saints declined to comment on the incident, and Haslett, who is now defensive coordinator for the Washington Redskins, did not return calls or e-mails for comment.
The next year, during his final season, Williams tested positive for marijuana use and received a four-game suspension. So when Smith-Williams found marijuana in their Baltimore home, she confronted her husband about it. He stormed through their Baltimore house with a baseball bat, hitting doors, chairs and pictures while threatening her, she says. But after Coach Haslett’s warning the previous year, she chose not to call the cops. Instead, she rang the NFLPA rep assigned to Williams’s case. He told her to stay safe and to let Williams leave the house. He said that someone would call her back. That call never came. Smith-Williams wasn’t entirely surprised — the league rarely returned calls from her or other wives, they had told her. So she didn’t bother calling again.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says the league has no record of the event. The NFLPA declined to comment, but Patterson, who now counsels NFL families on its behalf, says the players association is “definitely hyper-responsive” to wives’ inquiries.
In another incident that year, in their New Orleans-area home, Smith-Williams says her husband threw a cellphone at her, hit her on the arm with a newspaper, then pushed and held her against the wall and started choking her. This time, she called the cops and filed a police report that describes much of the episode; a copy was obtained by The Washington Post. But she was ultimately afraid to press charges. “I didn’t want the father of my children in jail,” she wrote in an e-mail. “I didn’t want him to lose his job. Bottom line.”
“HE SAID, ‘DON’T TALK TO THE MEDIA. DON’T TALK TO THE POLICE. WE WILL HANDLE IT.”
Even after players have left the field, their dependent wives have an incentive to protect their husbands’ careers. Wally Williams had retired in 2003 to work as a CBS analyst and moved out of the Maryland home he shared with Smith-Williams. But in January 2005, he returned to pick up a laptop and some other property that, she says, didn’t belong to him. “I called the police and he snatched the phone from me. I called from other phones, and he would do the same. There was a glass door and he pushed me through it.” The police eventually called back, and Smith-Williams was taken to a Maryland emergency room, where, according to hospital records obtained by The Washington Post, she was treated for multiple cuts and bruises. Police came to the hospital and took a statement, but again she chose not to press charges.
Smith-Williams says she has talked about this phenomenon with dozens of football wives and girlfriends over the years, all of whom echo her feeling of powerlessness when law-enforcement, NFL, and NFLPA officials all failed to intervene against signs of domestic-abuse. The women, she says, eventually come to believe there’s nothing they can do fix the problem, so they focus on living with it. “I had friends who had black eyes. They said they ran into cupboards. There were women who said their husbands ran them over like they were on a football field,” Smith-Williams recalls. “There are many other families’ experiences that have already been minimized, ignored, or overlooked by the law and by the NFL because of the protection of the NFL brand.”
Among them was the then-wife of another New Orleans Saints player — the one who asked not to be named because her now ex-husband is still associated with the league. She recalls that one night, when several players were at a bar celebrating their first win of the season during the 1990s, her husband became enraged at her request to go home early. He grabbed her arm roughly and dragged her to their SUV while a teammate convinced two police officers who’d been patrolling nearby not to intervene.
The abuse intensified once they got home, where her husband dragged her into their apartment by her hair and then beat her, she says.
He pushed me to the top of the stairs and shoved me over to the bed. When I stood up, he punched me, and the next thing I remember is coming to on the floor. I remember pulling my legs up to the fetal position to protect myself from his kick after kick. I was vomiting and gasping for air and remember screaming, ‘You are going to kill me!’
Her black eyes lasted for four weeks, she says.
Neighbors who saw the altercation begin outside their home had called the police. But when they arrived, instead of arresting her husband, the officers chatted and laughed with him about his successful game, she says. One requested an autograph for his kid. When her husband cleaned the blood from her face and ushered her downstairs to assure the police officers all was well in the home, they overlooked any evidence of abuse, she says, and as far as she knows they never filed a police report.
The next afternoon, a woman from the Saints main office called her for the first time ever. It wasn’t until she became a potential threat, the wife remembers thinking, that the team had reached out to her. Yet the rep didn’t mention the manhandling at the bar, the intervention from the police or even the abuse, which led the wife to think they just wanted to know whether she intended to involve the police or the press.
[The rep] said she called to ‘check on me.’ … I knew what the call meant. I think every wife knows innately what that call means: ‘Your husband needs this job, and you don’t want to take his dream away now do you?’ I lost more than my dignity. I lost my voice, my self-confidence, my identity. I was just a football player’s wife, collateral damage.
She says her then-husband avoided a hospital visit (and a potentially public embarrassment) the next day by cleaning up her bloodied eyes and face with supplies purchased at the drug store. He personally took her to her job to make sure she told her coworkers she had been in a car accident, which explained the bruises. She didn’t follow up with the police or press charges.
“I learned to listen and not speak,” she says. “He would remind me of that night, how no one would care if I was gone and how the cops did [not care]. It was all about him. He reminded me that I was alone and disposable.”
Neither the Saints nor the NFL responded to requests for comment about her story
In family-style cultures that promote loyalty above other concerns, victims are often disinclined to seek safety, says Ruth Glenn, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “There are a lot of barriers for women when they are trying to leave an abusive relationship,” she says. “The NFL has given us many factors as to why there are barriers: financial, shame, cultural barriers.”
Smith-Williams says that description fits her story, because she had become highly dependent on her NFL husband. She left her hometown of Akron, Ohio, her family and her social circle to move around the country as he played for different teams. She gave up her nursing job to support his career and take care of their growing family. For her, like many wives, the NFL became her life and her livelihood, and her husband was the link to that. If he left, she had nothing.
The elevator surveillance video showing Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée Janay Rice in Atlantic City emboldened these women to come forward, they say, because it revealed widespread but rarely-discussed problem. “If you hadn’t seen the video, you would never believe that this happens,” Smith-Williams says. “There is never any accountability” for men taught to attack on the field and enforce their wills on others. “Some of these men are not equipped mentally or emotionally to turn off the aggression switch.” Since separating from her husband, Smith-Williams has gotten a master’s degree and now works as a nurse practitioner in Garfield Heights, Ohio.
The NFLPA says it works with clinicians on various health needs of the players and their families, but there are no programs focused on domestic abuse. Smith-Williams thinks the league should mandate psychological help for players who exhibit warning signs and counseling for abused spouses and children. Token suspensions and resignations do nothing to solve the problem and may even worsen it, because players who are abusive, including their own husbands in the past, use the threat of punishment to keep their partners quiet, the wives say.
If the league is serious about ending domestic violence in its ranks, it must rehabilitate instead of punish, they say. Penalties should be less draconian, so wives don’t worry about ending their husbands’ careers or threatening their families’ livelihoods. “They use [the NFL’s current policies] as leverage against you,” says the ex-wife of the Saints player. “There’s abuse on every team. Everybody knows, but you know not to tell.” Ultimately, she says, the case against Ray Rice has made the NFL less safe for women:
“You will hear of a wife murdered before you hear another one come forward.”