tampabay.com

Only we can stop cycle of violence

By GARY SHELTON, Times Sports Columnist
Published May 26, 2007


The words are so small. The message is so important.

When people will not listen, is it possible to make them hear? I find my voice rising in anger. I tend to repeat myself. In an effort to get through, I am willing to plead.

To Elijah Dukes, the bully, I would start off by saying this: Who in the hell do you think you are?

I want to convince Dukes, the Devil Rays outfielder accused by his wife of death threats this week, that he is out of control. I want him to grow up. Or I want him to go away.

Alas, Dukes has heard all of this before. The words seem as easy for him to dismiss as gnats in front of his face.

And so I asked Candy Johnson, a surveyor from Brandon, to help me out.

Candy, the author of Tainted Love, knows a bit about abuse. Once, her first husband held her hostage for three and a half hours at gunpoint. He received 11 months and 29 days of probation and a $10 fine.

She took her three children to another state to start over; he followed. She married again, a secret wedding to Jamie Johnson because she feared her ex-husband's rage. Still, he would not go away.

On the day she and Jamie were to close on their house, the ex called her and insisted that he join them on vacation. She said no. He repeated himself twice. She said no. Then she heard gunshots over the phone. He had killed Jamie.

The courts found him not guilty by reason of insanity. He is currently trying to get out of a mental health facility.

Here is what Johnson would say to Dukes:

I don't know you, Elijah, and it's hard to pass judgment on people you don't know. But if the things I have read are true, I want to ask what you are trying to do. Once you take someone's life, you aren't just destroying the person you're trying to hurt. You're destroying multiple lives. I think there are places abusers can get help, but they have to want to get help. I don't think you can turn it off. It's like being an alcoholic. It's something you have to work at every day. Victims live with it every day, too.

- Candy

- - -

I want to say this to NiShea Gilbert, the accuser: Get help. And get away.

The problem with danger is that you cannot always recognize it. From what you say, Dukes can be a charming guy. Women who have suffered abuse will tell you that is often the case.

Perhaps Gilbert understands. If not, I would like her to talk to Bonnie Rosendale, the director of community and legal outreach for Community Action Stops Abuse.

Bonnie is strong enough to have served in the Army and as a sheriff's deputy. Yet her ex-husband once held a loaded pistol to her head and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the gun jammed. She divorced him, then later remarried him. He did not change.

Bonnie has a message for NiShea:

First of all, NiShea, stop being nice. Stop worrying about what everyone thinks. Stop worrying about what he might think. You have to figure out how to protect yourself, because this is only going to get worse. There are domestic violence centers all over the state. Ask to come in and talk to an advocate. We love you. As victims, we often feel we are alone, but there are people who will do whatever they can to protect you.

- Bonnie

- - -

It has been days now since the accusations, and the Rays have come across as passive and meek. Dukes returned to the lineup Friday night after two days off.

Come on, I would say to Stuart Sternberg, the employer: Draw a line in the sand.

What should the Rays do with Dukes? Should they release him, suspend him, demote him? Perhaps.

The first thing they should do is find out the truth. Dukes has yet to deny the accusations. The Rays should ask him what happened. Then they can proceed.

If Sternberg ever wants to suggest there is a bond between a community and a team, this is the time to show it.

Perhaps Sternberg should listen to Lee Chimos, a safety advocate for CASA who survived seven and a half years of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.

Along the way, Lee had both legs broken, as well as her wrist, several fingers, her ribs, her nose and her jaw. At one point, thinking he had killed her, her ex-husband buried her in a shallow grave beside their garage. He told her that if she left him, he would murder her son and her parents.

On Thursday night, Lee watched a TV report of Dukes swearing at a cameraman. She was so angry she screamed at her set.

Here is what Lee would say to Sternberg:

Stuart, I think you need to rethink what the Devil Rays are portraying to the public. Why would you put up with this? Because you win a few more games? At what cost? At the cost of his wife being murdered? His children? We could be looking at another O.J. Simpson situation here. Baseball is an American pastime. Evidently, that goes hand in hand with domestic violence.

- Lee

- - -

I want to scream at players association executive director Donald Fehr, the enabler. His union has become too powerful for common sense.

Know this: Whatever the Rays try to do with Dukes, the union is likely to come charging over the hill as if Dukes were the victim.

When the Seattle Mariners suspended pitcher Julio Mateo for 10 days a few weeks ago after he was charged with biting and choking his wife, the union charged in to file a grievance. When Arizona suspended infielder Alberto Callaspo (charged with kicking his wife and dragging a knife across her face) the union again filed a grievance.

This is absurd, and frankly, it isn't doing the majority of players any good. And let's not just jump on the union; let's send an exploratory team out to search for Bud Selig's backbone.

If this does not make sense, listen to Linda Osmundson, the executive director of CASA.

Linda is an intelligent woman, but even as she was completing her master's degree from the University of Southern California, she lived in fear. Her ex-husband once told her if she called the police, he would kill the officers when they arrived. After she left, she waited eight years before divorcing him because she was afraid of his reaction.

Also, Linda is a baseball fan. Here is her message to Fehr:

Don, I understand your job is to be supportive of the players, but you also have a community responsibility to expect those players to treat their wives with dignity and respect. What the union is saying is "Don't worry, we have your back no matter what you do." To me, domestic abuse is the worst crime, because it is against someone you supposedly love. This is for the good of all players. Good men don't want to be tarnished with this brush.

- Linda

- - -

The stories are too common. It is too easy to find women with so much pain.

Listen to them, everyone.

Perhaps there will not be one more.

Gary Shelton can be reached at (727) 893-8805.