Meet Melissa Dohme, a 23-year-old college student from Clearwater.
Three years ago, she was savagely beaten and left for dead. She was stabbed 19 times in the head, neck and face. She was stabbed 13 more times in the hands and arms in an attempt to defend herself. She flatlined four times at the hospital. Her skull was fractured. Her jaw was broken. Her nose was shattered. Her larynx was sliced. Several teeth were knocked out.
"It's a miracle I'm alive," she said.
Her assailant was a man she knew well: her former boyfriend.
Meet Shandra Riffey. She has helped hundreds of women like Melissa, women who have been punched, kicked, bruised and abused by their husbands or boyfriends. Riffey is the acting executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, a bay area organization known as CASA that shelters and aids victims of domestic violence. Her experiences are the stuff of nightmares.
"I knew one woman who knew she was going to get a beating by the way she heard the car door slam when her husband came home," Riffey said. "He didn't even have to beat her to have control over her. Just that car door slamming invoked the same feeling internally."
Today is Sunday. In America, fall Sundays mean football. It's a day we sit back and enjoy the most popular sport in this country.
But before you watch the Bucs-Cowboys game today — especially if you're a fan of the Cowboys — think of Melissa Dohme and the night she was so viciously attacked that she should have died. Think of Shandra Riffey and all the women she sees left bruised on the outside and permanently scarred on the inside.
Think of these women. Then think of this story:
A man standing an intimidating 6 feet 4 and 278 pounds who is so strong that he tosses around professional football players like they are rag dolls. Think of that man choking his girlfriend during a jealous rage. Think of him slamming her into a bathtub, leaving cuts, scrapes and deep bruises all over her arm, back and throat. Think of him throwing her onto a couch full of assault weapons and threatening to kill her. Think of his girlfriend telling him to just go ahead and do it, to just end it, to just kill her.
That man: Greg Hardy. He is a defensive end who signed a $13 million contract with the Cowboys. He will play at Raymond James Stadium today. He is free to play because his conviction on domestic violence charges was overturned when his victim did not show up to court for his appeal. Hardy had reached a civil suit settlement with her. In other words, he paid her off.
Now he is a millionaire living the good life of an NFL player.
Shame on the Cowboys. Shame on their owner, Jerry Jones. Shame on you if you root for a team that would employ such a menace to society.
Shame on all of us for supporting a sport that employs such a rotten human being, who has shown in recent weeks with his words that he remains tone deaf, that he still doesn't believe he has done anything wrong.
Why would he when his life is as good as ever because the Cowboys made sure it is?
"This is a big problem in our society, and what does allowing this man to play say?" Dohme said. "It says that it's okay, that you can beat a woman and still be rich and famous. It says we don't care as long as you can play football."
And let's not let the Bucs off the hook. They, too, considered signing Hardy before Jones decided to spit in the face of all women by signing a player simply because he can sack quarterbacks. Surely other teams would be interested if Hardy was on the open market today.
"This is a prime example of the way that the NFL can really step up and partner with the coalition, partner with their local domestic violence centers and get out there and do good with this," Riffey said. "This is a challenge. Take some responsibility. Do the right thing.
"What did the Cowboys and their owner do? They brought in a player just because he is really good at playing football."
Even those of us with no direct experience with domestic violence are outraged that Hardy would have a place in the NFL. Imagine how victims feel.
"Anger, disgust, anger," Dohme said. "What kind of message does this send? I'm lucky. The man who attacked me will spend the rest of his life in prison. But for most women out there, their attackers are never punished. And having someone like Greg Hardy play football only empowers these men."
"And," Riffey said, "terrifies the women they beat."
Riffey worries about the message being sent to boys — future boyfriends and husbands and fathers.
"This is a war on women, and it's happening in the locker room and the football field," Riffey said. "And it's the locker room and football field where the heroes of young people are."
Riffey is quick to point out that she believes football has good men, too, good men who are players and coaches and owners. Good men who would never tolerate someone like Hardy.
She doesn't believe Jones is one of those men. Jones said he doesn't condone domestic violence, but that seems laughable now that he employs Hardy and even refers to him as a team leader.
"This owner has done great harm," Riffey said. "He should have asked, 'What's my responsibility to society and the community? What's my responsibility to Dallas? To Texas? What's my responsibility to women?' Instead, he asked, 'Can this help my football team?' When we start putting women and their lives and their safety behind winning and making the almighty dollar, we have a real societal problem."
Does Jones have no shame? Where is his conscience? Where is the line a player can cross that Jones would not sign?
"I guess the line is when he's no longer productive, you know?" Fox analyst and former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman told a Dallas radio station last week. "I think that has always been the line for Jerry Jones. … He's one to pretty much accept everything as long as a guy's productive. There's not many owners in this league like that."
Jerry Jones, almost certainly, is in town for today's game.
If I had the chance to ask him one question, you know what it would be?
I wouldn't ask him why he signed Greg Hardy. I wouldn't ask what he thinks of domestic violence. I wouldn't ask what he thinks of all the negative reaction he has received for signing Hardy.
Instead, I would ask him for a favor.
I would ask him to come along with me.
"Jerry? I'd like you to meet Melissa and Shandra."