Voice Male - Summer 2004

From the Editor

A Picnic in the Park

And a New Voice in the Campaign Against Domestic Violence

By Rob Okun

Lisa Kapler knew she had to act. The wife of Boston Red Sox player Gabe Kapler decided to go public with the abuse she suffered at the hands of a controlling boyfriend--before she met her husband--so younger women might learn the warning signs of abuse and avoid going through what she went through for three years when she was in high school.

The Red Sox wives, who work as a group on a range of social concerns, were organizing, with the Red Sox Foundation, a "Picnic in the Park" in late June to support the work of Jane Doe, Inc., the Massachusetts coalition working to prevent sexual assault and domestic violence. When a representative from Jane Doe met with the women in the Family Room at Fenway Park to describe the coalition's work and the victims of abuse it served, Lisa did more than listen. In a quiet voice Lisa stunned the roomful of Sox wives by announcing she had been a victim of abuse. From 14 to 17, the now 28-year-old mother of two had been choked, punched, and kicked by a boyfriend who tried to control her every move, who bruised not just her body but her spirit.

Eleven years later she was ready to talk. Lisa knew the fund-raiser for Jane Doe, featuring a group picnic in the outfield of historic Fenway Park and attended by many members of the Red Sox team, would attract a lot of publicity. She knew this was the moment to tell her story, so she granted an interview to a Boston Globe reporter. But she wasn't acting alone. Husband Gabe, a speedy outfielder, encouraged her to share her experience.

The "Picnic in the Park" happened to fall on my birthday, and my wife and I decided to make a day of it, first watching the Sox rout the Phillies and then staying on for the reception and picnic afterward. It was a magical day, one in which New England's most beloved professional sports team appeared more like a family than a business (though big business Major League Baseball surely is).

There were great snapshots to remember. Watching star pitcher Curt Schilling holding the baseball on the mound one moment, and later, as a dad in street clothes, holding one of his children. Or Tim Wakefield, another pitcher, pushing his new son in a baby carriage across the warning track in center field. Seeing catcher Doug Mirabelli retrieve a baseball his young child had just hit. These men are heroes on the field, yet like many of us, they are also fathers, men, regular people with lives and families, triumphs and struggles.

But watching fans line up to collect the players' autographs, I was reminded of the special status and responsibility athletes have in society and how their lives, on and off the field, take place under a particularly glaring spotlight. From O. J. Simpson to Kobe Bryant, from domestic violence to sexual assault, the conduct of our sports heroes is always under scrutiny. It's a price pro athletes pay for being held in such high esteem, especially by the young.

At a reception before the picnic, after the players had answered questions about the game, Gabe Kapler and Lisa Kapler spoke. He said men have a responsibility to say no to domestic violence, and she said she was telling her story so other women, including teenagers in abusive dating relationships, would know what to look for and know how to escape.

Despite the grim statistics about domestic violence and sexual assault, despite the Kobe Bryant rape trial and this spring's shocking revelations of sexual misconduct allegations leveled at University of Colorado football players, there are signs of hope. The fact that the Red Sox Foundation, the players' wives, and Jane Doe--a shining light in the struggle against sexual assault and domestic violence for 30 years--came together is one such sign. Lisa Kapler speaking out--11 years after she escaped the abuse--is another.

Seven years ago in these pages I recounted a Red Sox game I'd brought my then-nine-year-old son, Jonah, to watch. The game was marked by fans booing Sox outfielder Wil Cordero when he came to bat for the first time. Cordero had recently been arrested on a charge of domestic assault and battery--for smashing a telephone into his wife's forehead. "Why are they booing him, Dad?" my son innocently asked.

As a parent, I saw the question as a teachable moment: a moment that brought together my role as a father and as the then-associate director of the Men's Resource Center. I told Jonah about the work the MRC's Men Overcoming Violence program was doing. I told him about the group I led every Wednesday night helping men to learn not to act abusively. I told him that the Red Sox were going to make Cordero go to counseling. My answer satisfied him; but I was distracted. The escape I'd sought at the ballpark had been interrupted by the reality of domestic violence.

It is seven years later, and Lisa and Gabe Kapler, the Boston Red Sox and Jane Doe are part of the commitment a growing number of people and institutions across the country and around the world are making to prevent such abuse. For the sake of our children, we have to work for a world where innocent nine-year-olds don't have to ask, "Why is everyone booing, Dad?"

Rob Okun is Co-Director of the Men's Resource Center and Editor of Voice Male. He can be contacted at raokun@mrcforchange.org.

The mission of the Men's Resource Center for Change is to support men, challenge men's violence, and develop men's leadership in ending oppression in our lives, our families, and our communities.

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