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Kevin Porter Jr, Miles Bridges, and domestic violence in the NBA

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On Monday, Houston Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr. was arrested and charged with assault and strangulation after allegedly attacking his girlfriend at a New York City hotel. The victim, former WNBA player Ksyre Gondrezick, was left with a fractured neck vertebra and cut above her right eye, and prosecutors allege he didn’t stop attacking her until she ran out of the hallway covered in blood and seeking help.

It’s a horrific case of domestic violence, perpetrated by one of the league’s most mercurial players who’s been given a number of chances to redeem himself because of his immense talent. Porter was released on bail earlier this week, and is set to appear in court on October 16th, the same day the Rockets tip off their preseason.

The incident has far-reaching implications on the Rockets’ projected season. Porter signed a four-year, $63.4 million rookie extension last year, and averaged 19.2 points per game in the 2022-23 season, good for second most on the team. He was widely expected to contribute to winning on a revamped Houston team next season under former Celtics head coach Ime Udoka.

Then, he beat up his girlfriend.

The news inundated social media, followed by speculation and the inevitable hot takes. But the media discourse around this case should not center around Porter’s wasted potential nor the missed opportunity for the Rockets franchise.

Instead, it is an unfortunate opportunity to make clear that there is simply no place for domestic violence in this league. As a society, and as an NBA community, we haven’t figured out how to effectively respond to these types of incidents. For all we know, Porter will be on the floor sooner rather than later.

The Athletic reported that the Rockets are attempting to trade Porter Jr. and are offering draft compensation as an incentive to take on his contract. If a team agrees to take on his salary via trade, while they would likely immediately waive him and absorb his contract, they would also have “to keep in mind the optics of taking on a player under felony assault and strangulation charges,” Shams Charania writes.

Regardless of what happens next, we all have a responsibility to talk about domestic violence with urgency. That includes the NBA league office, the athletes themselves, the media, and its fans.

Because this is not an isolated incident.

Kevin Porter Jr.’s case is particularly severe; a neck fracture can result in paralysis or even death, and the outcome here could have been even more dire. There are eyewitnesses, clear physical evidence, and a long history of brush-ups with the law. As unreliable as the criminal justice system is when it comes to trying abusers, it’s pretty certain here that Porter Jr. will face some consequences.

But will they be severe enough?

Last summer, Charlotte Hornets forward Miles Bridges was accused of beating the mother of his children in front of them. The victim, Mychelle Johnson, in a since-deleted post on her Instagram, posted a photo of her bruised face and body, along with a caption that read, in part, “Adult victim of physical abuse by male partner; Assault by strangulation; Brain concussion; closed fracture of nasal bone; Contusion of rib; Multiple bruises; Strain of neck muscle.” Bridges, who pleaded no contest to the charges, received a 30-game suspension without pay from the league, twenty of which he doesn’t really have to serve because he sat out last season, and according to league rules, that missing season counts toward his punishment.

New Orleans Pelicans v Charlotte Hornets

Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

Then, there’s Jaxson Hayes, a big man who signed with the Lakers this offseason. The signing came just a year after he was charged with two counts of domestic battery, and sentenced to three years of probation and 450 hours of community service. The dominant narrative around his signing was pretty simple: LA added frontcourt depth. After all, the NBA never formally punished him, and the Lakers front office expressed that they carefully vetted him before.

In 2014, Hornets forward Jeffrey Taylor pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge, and was suspended by the league for 24 games after he pushed his girlfriend, slapped her arm and punched a hole in the wall near his hotel room. In 2016, Sacramento point guard Darren Collison pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of domestic violence after assaulting his wife, who had visible injuries on her body. He received just an 8-game suspension.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list; Jason Kidd, Jason Richardson, and Matt Barnes headline a list of NBA standouts who were accused of domestic violence. Several former, and current Celtics were also previously accused of domestic or sexual violence, a list that includes Jabari Bird, Rajon Rondo, Chauncey Billups, Joe Mazzulla, and Kristaps Porzingis. Some of these cases resulted in guilty convictions, while others were ultimately dismissed, but it’s important to note that every NBA franchise has dealt with its fair share of allegations, further signifying the size and scope of the issue.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

When it comes to drug use, the NBA has maintained a more strict suspension policy. OJ Mayo, for example, was suspended for two full seasons for abusing painkillers. Chris “Birdman” Anderson was also disqualified for two years for violating the league’s drug policy.

More recently, Ja Morant got 25 games for flashing a gun on social media, and Kyrie Irving was suspended five games for sharing a link to an antisemitic film. Those punishments are pretty similar in length to some of the aforementioned domestic violence suspensions.

The NBA’s official policy on domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse is enumerated in Exhibit F of the new CBA. A Policy Committee — made up of two representatives from the NBA, two from the NBPA, and three independent violence experts — works to evaluate individual cases and provide players with a Treatment and Accountability Plan that typically centers around counseling.

As Commissioner, Adam Silver has the discretion to fine, suspend, or dismiss and disqualify a player from the league. But, to date, Bridges’s 30-game suspension is among the largest domestic violence punishments in the league’s history. We know the league has been more comfortable handing out larger suspensions for non-violent offenses, and it’s critical here that the punishment fits the crime.

Domestic violence is by no means limited to the NBA, but studies show that professional athletes are more likely to physically assault their partners. NBA athletes have a domestic violence arrest rate of 38.2% higher than the general population, and NFL athletes have an even higher DV arrest rate — 55.4% higher than the national average. It’s not just men, either. WNBA player Riquna Williams was barred from the Las Vegas Aces earlier this summer after allegedly striking her wife.

In an ideal world, we get to a place where players assaulting their partners simply does not happen. But, considering these incidents will continue to take place, everyone within the NBA ecosystem needs to assume a level of responsibility for admonishing this type of behavior.

Los Angeles Lakers vs Miami Heat, 2020 NBA Finals

Set Number: X163388

With the Kevin Porter Jr. case, Adam Silver has yet another opportunity to send a message. So far, he’s called the allegations “horrific” and said the league office will determine whether it “will be appropriate for [Porter] to go to training camp or not.”

Maybe this time, the NBA will send a stronger message. But, fair or not, the onus to cultivate a culture that undeniably rebukes domestic violence extends beyond just the league office.

Ultimately, domestic violence punishments should be more severe, and players should clearly state their opposition to this type of behavior, even if it feels obvious. The media should ensure its coverage doesn’t center around Porter’s athletic prowess or cost to the salary cap, and fans should avoid centering their discourse around the on-court implications of this incident.

Once upon a time, I was a ten-year-old girl sitting in the stands at TD Garden, cheering for my favorite Celtics players. Everything that those players did, on and off the court, impacted the way I viewed the world. It is that experience that shapes my understanding of why the way talk about domestic violence in the NBA matters.

Everyone — the athletes, media, and fans alike — needs to do better.

Miles Bridges was welcomed back into the league, and throughout the saga, players neglected to speak on the matter, citing the fact that there was an ongoing criminal investigation.

Hornets teammate PJ Washington shared that he’s happy to have Bridges back, “especially after everything he’s gone through. So, just to be here and pick up a basketball again is just a blessing for him. I’m excited for him.”

But last month, when American sprinter Noah Lyles criticized the NBA for deeming the winners of the finals ‘world champions,’ players were quick to publicly chastise him, with stars like Kevin Durant, Damian Lillard, Devin Booker, and Aaron Gordon running to Instagram to express their dismay. Lyles comments were perfect fodder for social media hot takes and made for a fun, harmless offseason discussion. It’s not a perfect equivalence, but it’s also a reminder that in today’s day and age, it’s really easy to speak out and have a large audience listen.

It would go a long way for superstars like LeBron James and Steph Curry to publicly call out this type of behavior, to make clear there is no place for it in the league. A part of the silence likely stems from the fact that most NBA players have, at one point, played with someone accused of domestic violence. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to make public.

A part of it is likely the result of how obvious this issue may seem; do you really need to proclaim that domestic violence is bad? I’d imagine that the vast majority of players in the league don’t view that as a topic worthy of much debate.

However, as obvious as it seems, it remains important that players hold each other accountable, and make clear that one’s spot as an accepted member of the NBA brotherhood is at risk when these kinds of allegations come to light.

We’ve seen NBA players spearhead difficult discussions before in truly meaningful ways. Just last month, I wrote about Jaylen Brown’s role as a vocal leader on all sorts of inequalities. In the bubble, the Milwaukee Bucks initiated a boycott of playoff games in the face of police brutality. Afterwards, whispers started coming out of Orlando that the teams were considering ending the season entirely. Players turned to LeBron given his stature in the league and despite the Lakers voting to cancel the remainder of the playoffs, the league completed the postseason and more importantly, the players collectively sent a message loud and clear against racial injustice.

Every player in the league has some sort of platform, and it would be incredibly powerful if they chose to make combating and speaking out against domestic violence a priority. Many of the league’s stars have the opportunity to single-handedly change the national discourse around domestic violence perpetrated by professional athletes.

At the same time, the media and fans must do better in their response to these incidents. On Twitter, countless posts highlighted Ksyre’s physical appearance, some even explicitly asking, “how could someone hurt a woman so beautiful?” Media analysis largely focused on the contractual implications of Kevin Porter Jr’s actions.

The media, in particular, has the obligation to use incidents like these as a teaching opportunity and a chance to create awareness, and not just discuss them through the lens of on-court analytics and lineup implications. The same goes for fans, whose immediate, gut instinct might be to wallow in how such incidents could impact their team’s projected wins.

I urge those fans to push back on that immediate reaction and think more deeply about the issues at stake. The Department of Justice estimates that over half of domestic violence cases go unreported. It’s a sobering statistic that’s bigger than points per game or win totals and the NBA spotlight could give victims an avenue to come forward.

Denver Nuggets v Houston Rockets

Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Like it or not, NBA players are role models for the next generation. In Houston, little kids don Kevin Porter Jr. jerseys, and families flood Toyota Center. Next year, when Miles Bridges hits a three, Spectrum Center will erupt in cheers. Soon enough, his domestic violence case will become a thing of the past.

As these incidents fade from public consciousness, the moral imperative to continue working toward a society, and a league, that is devoid of intimate partner violence, will only grow. I hope that each and everyone one of us can prioritize that responsibility, even when it is uncomfortable.



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