When representatives of the four major sports – football, baseball, basketball and hockey – testified on domestic violence before the Senate Commerce Committee Dec. 2, not one commissioner appeared. It was a snub that wasn’t lost on committee members.
"They were all asked to be here, and leadership does start at the top. And I do think that it's pretty convenient that none of them were able to appear today," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire. "That does say something about: How big a commitment is there going to be on this?"
One prominent sports figure has never shirked that commitment. Joe Torre, who managed the New York Yankees through their magical championship run in the late 1990s, was on hand for the hearing. His interested isn’t casual. Joe is the founding chairman of the Joe Torre Safe at Home Foundation, which seeks to end the cycle of domestic abuse through intervention and prevention programs for youngsters.These are offered in safe rooms in 10 schools and community centers on both coasts, each of which is called Margaret’s Place, after Joe’s mother, who was abused by his policeman father. Since the organization’s founding in 2002, close to 50,000 children have been helped.
“If we’re going to end the cycle of domestic violence, kids are going to have to be part of the solution,” he told fans and shoppers at a special Bloomingdale’s White Plains event Dec. 3. (The store donated 10 percent of sales from the event to the foundation.) “Whether they have the same name as ours or not, they all belong to us. Kids are our future.”
For Joe, it’s been a long journey.
“Ali and I at every stop – you know, I’ve been fired three times – always tried to do a charity associated with children,” Joe said, with wife Ali by his side. (In contrast to Joe’s troubled childhood home, he said, she came from a happy albeit chaotic family with 16 children.)
In 1995. as Joe was about to embark on his Yankee career, he and Ali participated in a seminar called Life Success, and Joe found himself sharing with strangers memories and emotions that he had kept buried for years. He realized the nervousness he suffered from was related to the verbal and physical abuse his father had heaped upon his mother.
The Joe who appeared at Bloomie’s was anything but nervous, all warmth and smiles as he shopped and autographed baseballs for children and other fans.
Meanwhile, I talked with Ali and Yolanda B. Jimenez, Safe at Home’s new executive director, about whether sports suffer from female trouble.
“I don’t think sports are anti-woman,” Yolanda said. “We forget domestic violence cuts across society. One out of four women is abused.”
But women still have a long way to go in terms of leadership roles, Ali said. And if domestic violence is ever going to be eradicated, she added, more female voices are going to have to be raised.
The Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation holds its annual tennis and golf outing July 23 at Sleepy Hollow Country Club.