Reporting of the famed footballer’s arrest in Port Melbourne on Sunday night reinforced his tough-man image while referring to a “domestic incident”. Coverage of the charges he’s facing in Miami called the trigger for police intervention a “domestic dispute” between Carey and his girlfriend, Kate Nielson.

But Miami Police Lieutenant, Bill Schwartz, was more direct with allegations on ABC News Radio:

…he assaulted a woman, smashed a wine glass against her face… Then when the officers intervened he kicked one of them in the mouth and elbowed another one in the side of the head.

Tellingly, reporters also mentioned the fact that the arresting officers in the US had no idea about Carey’s huge media profile and sporting legend status back home.

While he was indeed a successful footballer, Carey’s real claim to fame is infamy. The Australian has helpfully listed his misdemeanours for us, under the galling headline “Fallen Hero”. His sins include conviction for indecently assaulting a woman in 1996 after grabbing her breast outside a Melbourne nightclub and “asking” her: “Why don’t you get a bigger pair of t-ts?”

One of my problems with the coverage of violence against women is the media’s insistence on describing assaults committed within relationships as “domestic incidents” or “domestic disputes”. These terms are so passive and forgiving they border on culpability.

There were many “domestic incidents” in my home today – cups of tea were brewed; washing done; bills paid. The implication is that these “incidents” are incidental. Journalists need to start calling (alleged) assaults and bashings by their real names. Police jargon is already changing – Victoria Police no
longer officially use the word ‘domestic’ in conjunction with violence, they refer instead to “family violence”.

S-xism and apologetics are in play in this story. If Wayne Carey had been bashed in his Miami home by someone known to him, would it have been reported as a “domestic dispute”? No. It would have been branded, accurately, as an assault. As a reporter, you own the language and you have a responsibility to use it powerfully and meaningfully.

Insipid media representation of violence against women is one factor that perpetuates the problem. The other major factor is Australian culture itself.  As a nation we are far too forgiving of our “heroes” bad behaviour … all too willing to turn a blind eye to s-xual harassment and violence against women. I find the attempt by commentators and others to segregate the public sins of a man from his sporting prowess, in an effort to sustain his reputation as a great sportsman, disingenuous and indefensible intellectually.

Would we attempt the same act of justification for a politician or a judge – “But he’s such a good legislator” or “But he’s so deft with a gavel”? Nope, this is a special ‘get out of jail free’ card we reserve for our sports stars. Why? Because we’re addicted to winning and define our national success by our achievements on sports-fields where men play with their balls.

It’s time the media started taking sports journalism seriously and evening up the “coverage playing field” to expose the characters behind the victories, as required. The media is partly responsible for creating and feeding the Carey myth and it now has a responsibility to more closely examine the problem of violence against women associated with the blokey, alcohol-fuelled culture connected to professional football of all codes.

Posetti blogs at j-scribe, where a version of this article originally appeared.