Chicago Bears star receiver Brandon Marshall has been named in at least eight separate incidents of violence against women since he was drafted in 2006. But none of those incidents led to a criminal conviction (several didn’t result in any charges filed), and the NFL suspended him only once, for one game. At a news conference outside Atlanta on Wednesday afternoon, renowned attorney Gloria Allred said Marshall’s case exemplifies how “the NFL is careful to afford due process to its players, but little or no due process to the women and children who are alleged to be victims of violence by those players.”
Allred arranged the media event for Clarence Watley and Kristeena Spivey, two people who say NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ignored them when they asked him discipline Marshall. Watley is the father of Rasheedah Watley, with whom Marshall had a long and sometimes contentious relationship, and Spivey is Rasheedah Watley’s close friend. They seemed sincere in their frustration with Goodell and the NFL. It was an opportune time to bring up the old incidents, given the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy scandals and Goodell’s increasing vulnerability in the court of public opinion.
“It is time for the sham investigations to end,” Allred said as she laid out a proposal that would reform the NFL’s investigation process and give more voice to witnesses and victims.
At a moment when people are tried and convicted on Twitter or TMZ in a matter of seconds, it’s not easy to have a nuanced discussion about domestic violence. We simply want to say it’s evil, and the perpetrators are evil, and the victims are good, and the NFL is complicit in the evil. No respectable person wants to be seen as anything other than vehemently against the evil male predators and vigorously in support of their courageous female victims.
Many times, it really is that simple. Good and evil, case closed. That said, the story of Brandon Marshall and Roger Goodell and domestic violence is slightly more complicated than it appeared to be at Gloria Allred’s news conference.
Spivey said she called and e-mailed Goodell, asking him to “speak some sense into Brandon.” Watley’s father said he wrote Goodell a long letter detailing Marshall’s transgressions. No one at the news conference mentioned Rasheedah Watley’s own letter to Goodell, which told a different story.
“My name is Rasheedah Watley, I am the ex girlfriend of Brandon Marshall,” she wrote in the letter, dated July 29, 2008, and obtained by Pro Football Talk. “I read in the newspapers that he is in trouble with the league because of me. I will let you know that he never hurt me or hit me, I was pressured by my family to make up certain things [to] get money. I was told to say that Brandon hit me and hurt me so that I could get him to pay to keep me quiet. I want you to know he never did.”
Watley changed her story at Marshall’s trial in Atlanta in 2009. She said under oath that the letter had been a lie to protect Marshall. A jury found Marshall not guilty of misdemeanor battery.
The incidents have been well covered in the media, most thoroughly by Lindsay H. Jones of The Denver Post (she now writes for USA Today). They are rife with the sort of conflicting information that can frustrate investigators in the absence of clear-cut evidence like the surveillance video from a casino in Atlantic City that showed Rice punching his then fiancée.
“In the wee hours of June 17, 2006,” Watley’s friend said at the news conference, “I received the very first of what seemed like a hundred calls from Rasheedah crying on the other end of the line. She told me that she was hiding in the bushes from Brandon, who had allegedly punched her in the face.”
Jones, the reporter, obtained the police report from the same date. Watley told deputies outside Orlando that Marshall had pushed her, slapped her and thrown an object at her head. Marshall said Watley punched him, scratched him and broke windows. Officers saw scratches on his chest. No charges were filed.
The NFL can discipline a player for an off-the-field incident even if there’s no conviction, but it’s easier to do so if there has at least been an arrest. Other incidents in Marshall’s history suggest that someone accused of domestic violence can avoid arrest simply by leaving before the police arrive. In another incident on March 18, 2007, Watley told police that Marshall had punched her and took her purse at a hotel in downtown Atlanta. Marshall was already gone when Watley gave her statement, but the report said he sent Watley a text message that said, “I am watching you. Why did you call the police?” No charges were filed.
That June, Watley’s friend Kristeena Spivey told police that Marshall had rammed her car with his own vehicle and smashed it with a hard object. Marshall was gone when police arrived and was not prosecuted. Later that month, Watley told police that Marshall had punched and choked her; the officer saw a bruise on Watley’s eye and scratches on her body. The officer told Watley how to get a restraining order.
In August 2008, the NFL suspended Marshall for three games for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy. But Marshall appealed the suspension, pledging to stay out of trouble, and the NFL reduced it to one game.
He did not stay out of trouble. On March 1, 2009, Atlanta police received a call of domestic dispute at Marshall’s home. When they arrived, officers saw Marshall and his fiancée, Michi Nogami-Campbell, kicking and punching each other on the sidewalk. Both were arrested and charged with disorderly conduct. Those charges were dismissed when they refused to testify against each other. This may have been Goodell’s best chance to severely punish Marshall, given the independent witnesses. Instead, Goodell gave him another warning.
Perhaps the most dangerous incident occurred on April 22, 2011, when deputies from the Broward County Sheriff’s office in Florida responded to Marshall’s home and found evidence of a violent struggle between him and his wife: a pool of blood by the front door, blood on Marshall’s shoes, blood on a clip of bullets, blood on a 13-inch kitchen knife. Michi Nogami-Marshall had a large bruise on her left cheek, as well as cuts on a foot and a finger. Brandon Marshall had cuts on both wrists and a wound to the abdomen that required minor surgery. Marshall’s wife told authorities she stabbed him in self-defense. Marshall was not charged. His wife was charged with aggravated battery with a deadly weapon.
The case raised an uncomfortable truth. There was no mention of this at Wednesday’s news conference, and there is little tolerance for it in the current discussion about the sins of the NFL. Nevertheless, it is possible for an NFL player to be both the perpetrator and the victim of domestic violence.
Time after time, in similar cases across the country, the victim lies to protect the abuser. This victim is usually a woman. But the victim can also be a man. That is what the Broward County authorities concluded after investigating the bloody incident with Marshall and his wife. She said she stabbed him, and they believed her.
Marshall had his own version of the story, an account that cleared his wife of wrongdoing. He said he had slipped and fallen on the broken shards of a glass vase. Never mind that there was no blood in the area to confirm what he said. The authorities dropped the charge.