Former Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo was once best known for creating a defense so mighty that it could drag their utterly inept quarterback Rex Grossman to the Super Bowl. Now, if there is any justice, he will be remembered for something far more important. He will be known as a brave whistleblower who came forward to say that in his thirty-year career, he saw the NFL cover up “hundreds and hundreds” of cases of domestic violence. If the sports media are still paying attention to the whole “domestic violence/NFL thing”—unless we’ve moved on to something far more important like college players selling autographs (where’s my fainting couch?)—this should be banner front-page news.
First and foremost, to get this out of the way, I absolutely believe Mr. Angelo. He has no incentive to lie. In fact, his words read like an act of contrition and to express a need to make amends. He takes responsibility and paints himself in the ugliest possible light. “I made a mistake, Angelo said to USA Today. “I was human. I was part of it. I’m not proud of it. We knew it was wrong…. For whatever reason, it just kind of got glossed over. I’m no psychiatrist, so I can’t really get into what that part of it is. I’m just telling you how I was. I’ve got to look at myself first. And I was part of that, but I didn’t stand alone.” Tragically, the next day, Angelo “backpedaled like Deion Sanders” from these comments, saying, “That ‘hundreds and hundreds’ was taken totally out of context,” to CSNChicago.com. “When I was making a point to this person, I was making a point that over my 31 years in the National Football League I’ve seen a lot of changes…. I’m very pro-Commissioner.”
It’s sad but not unsurprising that Angelo did not stick to his observations. The Bears immediately disavowed everything Angelo confessed. Fomer Bears coach Mike Ditka called Angelo’s comments “gutless,” saying, “If you didn’t do anything while you were running the team, then shut up. Don’t live in the past.” This was a curious statement from Ditka, whose past comments about women, the Washington team name and pretty much any progressive idea since the end of prohibition show him to be proudly living in the past.
I think Jerry was telling the truth as he believed it and then was pressured to say otherwise. I see Ditka’s unhinged reaction, if anything, as another clue that Angelo is telling the truth. I also believe Angelo because of what we do know about domestic violence, above all else. As my friend Kerry who works as a DV counselor says to me, “Rule One: Never trust the numbers.” We have seen stats that show domestic violence among NFL families is lower than in the broader society. What would happen to those stats if we included these “hundreds and hundreds” of cases? It’s not just the NFL where DV statistics are largely useless. Wealthy families don’t come forward because they fear scandal. Poor people don’t come forward because they fear court costs, the police and the breaking up of their families. Women and, to a far statistically lesser extent, men don’t come forward because of some combination of fear and shame. Kids don’t come forward because the foster care system may seem more terrifying than what they are facing at home. Violence inside the family is ugly, complex, sometimes salvageable, often irredeemable, and far more widespread than anyone wants to admit.