Everybody's appalled by Chris Cook's felony domestic assault charge, for good reason. The Minnesota Vikings cornerback, 24, is accused of choking his girlfriend a week ago after she allegedly talked to an old boyfriend.
Cook's girlfriend, according to the criminal complaint, had marks on her neck and hemorrhaging in one eye consistent with strangulation. Cook was suspended without pay while the team looks into the charges.
Whether he plays professional football again should be the least of his worries. The burning question is, if he's found guilty, can he turn his life around?
The problem with awful tales like this is that too many people exit the public-opinion train at the Shame Stop.
Rage doesn't spring from a vacuum, and it won't stop in a vacuum, either. If the goal really is to stop domestic violence, we have to stay on board with Cook and others similarly accused, past shaming them to guiding them to services proven to turn violent men around. The Twin Cities is rich with such programs.
"I can see why there would be hue and cry to say that he shouldn't be a Viking," said Dave Ellis, Greater Twin Cities United Way community impact manager. "As a black man, I have to be willing to step up and call it what it is. If, indeed, he is found guilty, he has to be held accountable.
"But are we about pure retribution, or are we about helping this young man be what he can be? We cannot incarcerate our way out of this problem."
We can, however, innovate our way out.
The United Way, Ellis noted, is Minnesota's largest funder of men's violence prevention programs. Included are success stories such as Cornerstone Advocacy Services, the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project, the Council on Crime & Justice Family Violence Initiative, and the Lee Carlson Center which, Ellis said, has "a fabulous men's program."
United Way also funds the Minneapolis-based Domestic Abuse Project (DAP). Last year, 91 percent of the partners of offenders who completed DAP's men's therapy program reported no more violent incidents in the six months after their partners completed the program, said DAP Executive Director Carol Arthur. The number was equally high the previous year.
At DAP's annual luncheon two weeks ago, Arthur said, a former NFL player talked about being charged with domestic assault and completing the DAP program, "and how it changed his life."
Change doesn't happen overnight though and, with male offenders, outreach often happens too late.
"We have a tendency to wait," Ellis said. "With young men, we need to start at very early ages to talk about social, emotional and relationship issues." Violent behaviors, he said, are showing up in children as young as 4. "This is learned behavior," he said, which can be unlearned.
Strong and Peaceful Men
Megan Vertin agrees. Vertin, a therapist, and Donald Gault, a St. Paul-Ramsey County Public Health manager, will launch in January a pilot men's violence prevention program called Strong and Peaceful Men. The 25-week program is designed to help men "connect the dots" of their lives to understand the roots of their violent tendencies, and to learn communication, stress-management and coping skills to help them break the cycle.
While men charged with domestic crimes are typically ordered to attend such programs, Vertin hopes this one can be voluntary.
"We want men to know we have hope in them, and that they have people in front of them who believe they can change," she said.
Belief might be the most effective tool of all. The odds of making it onto a professional football team are infinitesimal. But scores of men have broken the cycle of violence.
Cook accomplished the former. He can accomplish the latter, if that is the road he'll face. But it's far less likely to happen if he feels he has to go it alone.