Thursday, 16 April 2015

A Punch of Flower's - sport’s domesticated violence

Back in November I talked about consent in sport and concluded that discussion of the informal and formal acceptance of (consent to) violence might be the place to start discussions of off-field violence, specifically sexual violence.

I ranged widely over boxing and other sports and included material on Ben Flower.  This is what I said about him then.

This post is inspired by the recent case of Ben Flowers and a reminder from Christopher Matthews of the violence in Ice Hockey which reminded me of the violence of professional wrestling which Corteen and Corteen cover.  I rely on Matt Rogers for the facts and some of the law and can recommend his extensive analysis of ‘implied sporting consent’.
Flowers received a six month ban from Rugby League Football (RFL) at the hands of the its match-review panel.  It represents potentially missing 13 games and is the most severe option open to the panel.

More interestingly the question might have been should his actions have been subject to police action - perhaps, there and then.  It would seem that Greater Manchester Police propose not to disturb the RFL’s jurisdiction but are investigating threats of summary informal justice on social media against Flowers.

I want to concentrate on Flower today as is due to return to action tonight in a Super League game against Warrington according to this Guardian article by Donald McRae (@donaldmcrae).  Some of the article might be seen as placing Flowers as the victim. His tears and familial shame are related; or is the victim his team? - his early sending off may well have contributed to their defeat. But half way through McRae tells us in a single sentence paragraph:

Flower also thought of Hohaia, the real victim that night.

We learn that he messaged Hohaia but heard nothing;then we are back to his fears of jail, the twitter abuse and death threats.  Restorative Justice might have been tried here.  Especially since another article says:

“Sometimes these things happen in a game,” said Hohaia, a 31-year-old who was a World Cup winner with New Zealand in 2008, and was unable to return after being knocked out by Flower’s first punch less than two minutes into the match. “In the heat of the moment people do things they regret. I’ve done some silly things myself, so I don’t hold any regrets against Ben – he’s probably disappointed with himself.

And this should also remind us of the high rate of violence between young men off pitch.

McRae is heartened by the quick cooperation of both clubs to support both men.  I am less so.  It might be argued that commercial imperatives - and the good standing of Rugby League with fans and sponsors - might be behind this.  There is also plenty of precedent and legal backing for such sport crime to be dealt with by the justice systems of the sport.  A feminist might note too the closing of ranks amongst men.

It is this thought that puts me in mind of other violences.  That closing of ranks amongst men - including media men - raises the issue of whether there is or isn’t a link between on field and off field violence.  That cannot be decided here (or at all?) but the description of Flower’s attack on Hohaia and the gathering around of the rugby football ‘family’ also reminded me of some responses to domestic violence.

Deb Waterhouse-Watson notes the narratological work done by clubs and media to move the ‘trial’ from men accused of sexual violence onto the complainant.  But what of the case of on field, televised and spectator-witnessed violence between players?  Clearly this needs narratological work (and subsequent analysis) too.  It is downplayed. 


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