Oscar Pistorius, who ran in the 2012 Olympics on prosthetic legs, is a celebrated athlete. But the charge of premeditated murder brought against him on Thursday should be considered in at least one other context before sports enters the discussion at all.
Domestic violence, specifically domestic violence committed by men against women, is epidemic, and it happens everywhere.
According to Bureau of Justice statistics, here in the United States, on average more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners every day.
Pertinent to the particular charges pending against Oscar Pistorius, one specific study titled Risk Factors For Femicide in Abuse Relationships (Campbell et al) has concluded that “access to firearms yields a more than five-fold increase in risk of intimate partner homicide.”
Reeva Steenkamp, the woman Pistorius allegedly murdered, had spoken out against domestic violence and other crimes against women. She, like Pistorius, was a recognizable figure. Pistorius himself has been celebrated not only as an athletic champion, but as an inspiration for his determination to compete at the highest level despite what most people would consider a profound disability. For these reasons, Reeva Steenkamp’s murder, the charges against Pistorius, and the trial that will follow will continue to receive international attention.
The battering and murder of myriad women who aren’t famous by men who aren’t famous will not receive much attention, except to the extent that individuals and groups dedicated to preserving the safety and saving the lives of potential victims can use the current headlines about one alleged murder to call attention to the many others.
Over the years, we have seen enough examples of the abuse of women by male athletes to understand that some of those athletes feel their success and celebrity entitle them to engage in violent, felonious behavior. Our culture must take on part of the blame for that syndrome. We excessively celebrate athletes, especially those involved in pro sports or the so-called revenue sports at Division-I college programs, but also those still in high school. In part, the feeling of entitlement comes from that. But thinking that abuse of women is a problem peculiar to accomplished male athletes would be spectacularly wrong, especially insofar as it diverted energy from addressing a much more widespread problem.