When Our Heroes Aren’t That

By Kathryn Jacob, LMSW | Op-Ed

When I was pregnant with our oldest child and we were thinking of possible names for him, sometimes the idea of naming him after someone would come to mind.  This seemed like a good idea for the most part – a family name, like naming him after a deceased grandfather or great uncle.  But when we considered naming the baby after someone who was still alive (family, friend, or celebrity), I got a little anxious. 

What if that person, who we name our child after, well, what if it turns out later that person is really a bank robber?  Dishonest?  Racist?  Or just mean?  Then we’ll be stuck with a child we love and adore whose name came from someone who has fallen out of favor and is a disappointment to us.

It is not uncommon in our world for a famous person – sports star, actor, chef, politician – to seem lovely and genuine and really good at whatever it is they do, and seemingly suddenly, they are accused of doing something horrible. 

Domestic violence is a common theme here. 

You have a professional sports athlete, for example, who is really, really good at throwing touchdowns or hitting a baseball or winning a World Cup and then, boom.  You see a mug shot on the news.  And then we experience many emotions: denial, confusion, bargaining, anger, disappointment, misplaced blame.  A politician, for example, who can work the room, shake the hands, kiss the babies, and seems to have a loving, healthy relationship with his wife, and then, boom.  The front page of the Sunday paper proclaims alleged abuse. 

Depending on how enamored we are with the person, or how well respected the person is, learning this news can be very upsetting.  Sometimes we viewed this celebrity as a hero – sometimes we even promoted this person’s hero status to our children. 

So what do we do?  What do we do when our heroes aren’t heroic?  When they’re actually abusive? 

When it comes to domestic violence, at SafeHaven, we prioritize victim safety first and then offender accountability.  When we’ve learned that someone we thought was a role model is actually an abuser, let’s make sure we prioritize the victim’s needs.  And we don’t do this by demanding she end the relationship (that may not be the safest thing for her at the time) or by asking her to publicly explain to the media why she stays / stayed (she doesn’t owe us an explanation).  Let’s make sure she knows what resources are available and let’s give her control over her own life, trusting that she will find freedom from domestic violence when she believes the time is safest for her to do so.  Let’s not write her off, but let’s give her space and information and time.

Now what do we do about him…

Offenders should be held accountable – but that accountability is most effective when found through the court system and through an accompanying batterer’s intervention group.  The offender should not get special treatment by law enforcement or the court system because of his celebrity status.  He should be held to the standard of the law based on his crime.  Also, there are accredited groups for batterers throughout Texas and the country.  This is the best intervention for a domestic abuser.  We would argue that reformation is possible.  Abuse is a choice; it is not a loss of control.  Living a non-violent life is possible.  It is possible to take violence off the table.

And what is your call?  What action can you take?

The most important and helpful thing you can do when these pop-culture issues, well, pop-up, is to talk about this in your peer group.  Explain how victims are experts in their own lives and they will do the safest thing for them at the time (which isn’t always leaving the relationship).  Talk about how, if abusers are not held accountable, they will continue to abuse.  Dispel the myths of intimate partner violence. 

And if you’re feeling particularly moved, reach out to your local domestic violence agency to see how you can be the best possible cheerleader for your community – and turn this sad celebrity story into motivation for something good.