The MacArthur Foundation announced its “genius grant” recipients earlier this week, and one of its choices strikes me as particularly inspired. Sarah Deer, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, MN, was recognized for her work with, and on behalf of, American Indian women living on reservations. The reminder that “Native women living on reservations suffer one of the highest per capita rates of violent crime in the world” is timely given recent events in the sports world.
Her efforts to develop policies and legislation empowering tribal governments to more effectively address domestic abuse and violence are drawing attention while football fans and residents of the state grapple with allegations that Adrian Peterson switched his 4-year old son, inflicting severe injuries in the process. The latter comes amidst a spate of recent domestic incidents involving 49er Ray McDonald, then-Raven Ray Rice, Panther James Hardy, and Bear Brandon Marshall.
It sometimes seems like awards like these are deployed strategically (like Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize), and hopefully Deer’s recognition reinforces the severity of this problem, as well as highlighting means of trying to address it, for an audience both outside and inside of sports. The grant comes at a moment when the American public is paying attention to domestic violence/abuse issues, and much of the media, at least, is reacting against the NFL’s pathetic response to these incidents. I suspect the eventual response by the league and individual franchises–delayed, indecisive–is more due to public pressures that potentially impact its bottom line than a response to the voices of domestic abuse victims.
That’s a reminder that money buys one’s way into these conversations about rights and oppression, and I’ve noted on this blog several times–especially in relation to the Washington NFL franchise’s nickname–that financial limitations often relegate Indian voices to less visible platforms. Deer has said she’ll use her stipend to help provide that platform for Native American women, specifically, and we can hope her contribution can amplify the efforts of other long-time advocates and new supporters outraged by recent, highly visible incidents, to continue to address domestic violence.