Following allegations of domestic violence from American football stars Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, questions arose surrounding the link between aggressive sports and violent behavior off the field. But these horrific actions are not purely relegated to American football players — rather, it seems to be a more pervasive trend amongst athletes overall. The latest case concerns Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona, who was secretly filmed allegedly beating his then-girlfriend, Rocío Oliva.
The disturbing video, leaked on Monday, shows a clearly intoxicated Maradona approaching his girlfriend, who is holding (and filming with) her cellphone. He growls, "You still looking at your phone?" as he approaches his 24-year-old ex-girlfriend, to which she replies, "Can't I look at it?" Oliva alleges that the 53-year-old soccer player then attempted to strike her twice with her right hand, as she cried out, "Stop Diego, calm down, stop hitting." An NY Daily News translation claims that Oliva continues to plead, "Stop! Stop! Stop hitting me," before the video cuts out. While Maradona admitted to to Argentine journalist Marina Calabró that he was the man in the video, he has adamantly denied assaulting his ex, saying that he merely knocked the phone out of her hand.
This is not the first time Oliva has accused her ex-boyfriend of assaulting her. Sports Illustrated notes that Oliva has previously filed assault charges against the athlete, but news media outlets were banned from reporting on the story until after the conclusion of the World Cup. The 53-year-old also has a history of aggressive behavior — this past summer, he was filmed slapping a male journalist after he allegedly winked at Maradona's ex-girlfriend. The video shows Maradona emerging from his car, and saying "What's your problem, idiot? Why do you mess with my woman if I don't mess with you?" before striking the journalist.
The athlete is known for his fiery temper when it comes to journalists, and it was this belligerent attitude that first catapulted him to fame in 1980's, when he helped Argentina win the 1986 World Cup title with a now infamous hand ball goal that earned him the nickname, "The Hand of God." Unimpressed by the mass media coverage that came alongside his victory, he was known for threatening to shoot journalists, running them over with his car, and yelling various obscenities at paparazzi. But of all his offenses, this latest video that alleges domestic abuse is likely the worst.
In response to the incident, Maradona told reporters,
I sent the phone flying but I swear by my children I've never hit a woman. The story starts and finishes there. I admit I knocked the phone out of Rocio's hands but there's nothing more to it. The situation didn't continue.
Since the incident, however, Oliva's aunt has called the soccer star a "psychopath and a woman beater." Maradona also seemed to suggest that there might be more embarrassing and troubling footage of aggressive behavior floating around, as the soccer star allegedly replied, "Which one?" when Calabró called him to ask about the recent video leak.
Maradona's incident comes as the latest in a series of domestic violence charges leveled against athletes across various disciplines, and seems to further enforce the notion that certain sports make way for increasingly aggressive behaviors, even away from the game. Football, for example, is known as a sport that breeds aggression — it's not just part of the game, it's encouraged. But beyond the socialization of violence, there are also distinct neurological side effects of football that may contribute to aggression. It is estimated that 30 percent of NFL players suffer or will suffer from some sort of neurodegenerative disease, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, where players get hit most often. And a well-functioning prefrontal cortex is also key to controlling violent behavior, according to University of Pennsylvania psychologist Adrian Raine.
Soccer doesn't fare much better. Viewers of the most recent World Cup were horrified when Luis Suarez sank his teeth into Italian player Giorgio Chiellini. Suarez, of course, is known almost as well for his football skills as he is for his penchant of biting fellow athletes, as he was disciplined twice before for chomping on other players in 2013 and 2010. Suarez justified the incident to Uruguay television stations by saying, "These are just things that happen out on the pitch. It was just the two of us inside the area and he bumped into me with his shoulder."
Even more concerning was the claim made by Uruguay Football Association president Wilmar Valdez, who responded to Suarez's four-month suspension by calling it "excessive," and added, "I have seen more aggressive incidents recently." Soccer fans are also known to be violent both in their celebrations and their mourning periods — there have been numerous reports over the years of riots breaking out over soccer matches across the world, from Egypt to Brazil to the United States.
And if behavior like this is tolerated, almost justified, on the pitch, how could it possibly be reigned in away from the game? The culture of violence that has pervaded many sports, football and soccer included, needs to be changed, not only for the sake of the players, but for their family members as well.
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