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Domestic violence is never a laughing matter


It’s no laughing matter when a spouse lashes out in anger and strikes the other spouse.

Is it?

In reading at least a couple of columnists’ take on last week’s high-profile case in Orange County, California, you’d think it was appropriate fodder for Letterman and Leno.

Actress Tawny Kitaen Finley, 40, who has been featured in movies like "Bachelor Party'' and "California Girls'' and in MTV videos, was charged with two misdemeanor counts of domestic violence after allegedly kicking her husband, Cleveland Indians pitcher Chuck Finley, with one of her high heels as he was driving them back to their Newport Beach home after eating out.

The alleged battery occurred when the 5-foot-7, 145-pound Mrs. Finley argued with her 6-foot-6, 236-pound husband in their SUV and repeatedly kicked him with her high heel, striking his right leg, thigh and arm and causing cuts and scrapes on his right arm, prosecutors allege.

At one point, Mrs. Finley allegedly pressed her high heel on top of her husband's foot, which was on the gas pedal. Mr. Finley remained in control of the car.

The argument spilled into the Finleys' home, where a 9-1-1 emergency call was made. Investigators said a “third party” made the call, not Mr. Finley, and that Mrs. Finley was arrested after it was determined that she was the aggressor. According to California law, the apparent aggressor is taken into custody, and the other spouse or party has no say whether or not that happens.

In the aftermath, at least a couple of commentators decided to use the incident to generate some laughs.

Orange County Register sports columnist Jeff Kramer referred to it in a column the day after Mr. Finley was scheduled to pitch for the Indians against the Anaheim Angels, his former team. Mr. Finley was replaced when he called and told team officials that he didn’t think he could make it to the park.

“The loss was an exciting one, made all the more interesting because it was it was ‘Ex-Angel Pitcher Pulled From Opposing Team's Lineup Because His Wife Beat the Crap Out of Him Night,’” Kramer wrote.

“It's probably not my place to comment on the alleged assault on Chuck Finley by his actress wife, Tawny Kitaen. But any woman who shows that kind of accuracy with a stiletto heel is worth looking at for middle relief.”

Ha ha.

ESPN.com columnist Jim Caple posted a piece poking fun at Kitaen’s acting career, which took a very different path from that of Tom Hanks after the two starred in “Bachelor Party.” In it, he made the following observation:

“Top two reasons the police arrested Kitaen: 2. They wanted to make a point that domestic violence is a serious, terrible crime, that won't be tolerated regardless of whether the wife or husband commits it. 1. They wanted to frisk her.”

Even when throwing in the reference to the crime, he couldn’t resist turning it into a farce.

Unfortunately, when you hear or read about an incident like this, the first thing that pops into your mind is, “How much is a woman going to be able to hurt a man who is a professional athlete? It couldn’t be that bad.”

It’s not written in any law or code anywhere, but in our society and perhaps around the world, a man is not expected to be adversely affected by a woman’s attempt to strike him or hurt him physically. It’s tragic when it happens, but when any of us hear about it, the little voice inside us asks, “What’s wrong with you? You let a woman beat you up?”

The written commentary is reflective of this.

In his ESPN.com piece, Caple writes that Mr. Finley “faces constant heckling for the rest of his career and the distinct possibility that despite nearly 200 wins and more than 2,000 strikeouts, he will be forever remembered as the 6-foot-6 pitcher who got beat up by the chick in the Whitesnake videos.”

FOX Sports commentator and former major league player Steve Lyons told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Mr. Finley can expect quite a bit of hazing from his teammates after enough time passes for the emotional wounds to heal. Much of the teasing will be due to Mr. Finley allegedly being attacked by a woman, referred to as “a serious loss of face in the macho baseball world.”

Just take the word “baseball” out of that quote and you’d have a description of the likely public perception of any man attacked and injured by a woman not brandishing a weapon. It’s not right, but that is the way we react -- if not publicly, then at least somewhere in our private thoughts.

Any commentary which uses this case or any like it as the basis for humor is in extremely poor taste. There is nothing the least bit funny about alleged domestic violence. Besides now having to sort out their marital relationship, the Finleys have two daughters who are affected.

Nothing that is written or said by commentators can change the fact that our society has different reactions to male vs. female violence than when the roles are reversed. But making it the subject of parody makes it seem acceptable to feel that way, and it most certainly is not.

This column was written April 7, 2002, and published in the Beavercreek (Ohio) News-Current and the Tinytown Gazette (Cohasset, Mass.)

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