The Difference Between Domestic Abuse And Bar Fights: The FSU Quarterback Punch

On Tuesday, ESPN’s Around The Horn began their show with one of their solemn “unscored” segments. The topic: the release of security video showing Florida State freshman quarterback De’Andre Johnson punching an unnamed woman in the face while out at a bar. Tony Reali introduced the topic with a warning about the video’s content being graphic.

And it was. Johnson did do exactly that and in response, FSU has dismissed him from school. Johnson is currently facing misdemeanor battery charges for the punch and the victim is going to testify. It seems likely he will face judicial consequences for his actions—an outcome that may show a welcome change in behavior by Tallahassee Police and prosecutors, perhaps chastened from covering up for Jameis Winston. All of this makes sense and is good.

During the ATH segment, the panel (Paige, Adande, Torre, Jones) were universal in their condemnation of Johnson and embrace of a “men should never, ever hit women” framework. Adande went so far as to call out and endorse a double standard where women can hit men and men cannot hit women. The panel agreed.

This has largely been the take of the mainstream, rightthinking sports community. After the Ray Rice neverendingslowmotion train wreck during last NFL season, the sports media are now quick to jump to support and defend victims of domestic abuse. And this is great. But this situation was not domestic abuse. It was a bar fight. An unevenly matched bar fight, but a bar fight nevertheless. And in situations like this, distinctions like this matter. Because while it is good and right and correct that Johnson is being charged with battery, the woman should be as well.

People get in fights. All the time. And bars are not uncommon venues for fights. Because: alcohol. And fighting is wrong. Hitting someone is wrong. This is why assault and battery exist as charges in the justice system. However, unless the rationale that got Nic Cage locked up in Con Air has suddenly become the law of the land, fighting is fighting, aggression is aggression, a punch is a punch. Taking the context of crowded college bars into account, Occam ’s razor dictates the following as the likely series of events that led up to the punch.

At a busy bar, the woman who ends up punched is waiting in line behind tank top guy (see yellow arrow). The bartenders are busy making drinks for the three women at the left corner of the bar.

FSU punch 1From the third row, Johnson pokes tank top guy in the head with a finger gun (maybe they know each other?). The women on the left have received their drink in a pitcher and are pouring.

FSU punch 4Tank top guy turns around and says something to Johnson and appears to encourage him to move up to the bar.

FSU punch 5As Johnson (in white baseball cap) moves through the crowd, the woman who had been waiting behind tank top guy slides quickly to the left to box out Johnson, in an attempt to prevent him from reaching the bar.

FSU punch 6Unfortunately for her, the women on the left are leaving their place at the bar so there is room for Johnson to continue to the bar. She cranes her head around to speak to him. Again, Occam’s razor dictates that she is likely saying something about Johnson cutting the line. (She’s not wrong!)

FSU punch 8As Johnson arrives at the bar, the woman turns to face him, bracing her left arm across his chest and showing her right hand as a fist.

FSU punch 10They exchange words (likely cursing and slurs, both racial and intoxicated) and Johnson grabs her right wrist.

FSU punch 11The woman wrestles her right arm out of Johnson’s grasp and kicks her right leg to create space between them.

FSU punch 12The woman throws a left cross at Johnson.

FSU punch 13Johnson responds right a right hook and then leaves the scene. Other bar patrons assist the woman, who appears stunned by the punch. Strangely, the bartenders never seem to notice or care what happened.

FSU punch 14

Looking at the last still from the security camera, it is easy to see why the sports media–or, everyone, in fact– have reacted the way they have. What Johnson did was absolutely unacceptable. He should have known better and he should face the consequences of his actions. But look at the other stills in this series. In response to what appears to be perceived line cutting, the woman initiated a confrontation, escalated it, and was the first to use violence. This was not Ray Rice in the elevator.

It’s important to recognize that this woman (and women in general) has the agency to do things, including getting into fights. To deny her this power is condescending and infantilizing. The sports media’s neo-chivalric analysis of this situation assumes that all to which a pissed off woman can aspire is to vainly weep and flail and pound on the strong, stoic chest of a man. This is a very anti-feminist worldview. This woman was out in the world doing her thing. She instigated a bar fight—which is a thing that happens, even though its wrong, because sometimes people get in fights—and Johnson decided to participate. Both she and he should face the consequences. Refusing to respect and acknowledge her role in the situation subordinates her actions to his; it implies that what she does doesn’t matter. That she doesn’t matter.

This was not a case of domestic abuse. It was two (drunk) people getting into a bar fight.

About the Author: Gus Caravalho is the editor of ALTTAB Radio, a blog and podcast about sports and other things. Go Lakers/Chargers/Tar Heels. Boo dook/olives/Mario Chalmers. Get more from Gus on ALTTAB Radio and Google+.


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