“Don’t Be Like Me”
Mickey Mantle’s Gift for People Working for Change
Mickey Mantle was an American hero because of the gargantuan home runs he would hit and the enormous pain and injuries he overcame in leading the Yankees to victory. Mickey was also a flawed man who caused serious harm to himself and others from his womanizing and excessive drinking. These failures led to a shortened life and his greatest exhibition of courage and service to his fans and our nation.
Mickey’s excessive drinking led to severe liver damage, a transplant, and, ultimately, cancer that killed him. At the end of his life, he told his fans who continued to love and admire Mickey, “Don’t be like me.” Mickey Mantle wanted to promote organ donations so more people might have a second chance at life, and he wanted his fans to avoid the mistakes that were about to cost him his life.
Changing Our Lives
Most people would agree that cheating on your wife and drinking excessively are bad ideas. So why would it be difficult or take an unusual character to support good behavior? The problem is that it is human nature to become defensive about our past behavior, especially when it is harmful to others. “Don’t be like me,” can be an incentive to overcome this harmful defensiveness.
Most racism does not involve the extreme behavior one would expect of the KKK just as most sexism does not include rape or physical assault. Most racism and sexism are far more subtle, and in many cases, the offenders are oblivious to the harm they are doing. White people are usually oblivious to the unearned advantages we receive from white supremacy, just as men are unaware of the unearned privileges we receive from male supremacy.
Mickey Mantle had a long history of cheating on his wife. Based on the book by his teammate, Jim Bouton, he objectified women by valuing them for their body parts and sex. Unfortunately, this is a common belief among boys and men in our sexist society. This belief harms women, not only from the added physical danger but also ignoring their talents and accomplishments that could help their career and position in society.
Much of the public, and indeed court professionals, are unaware of compelling scientific research that confirms family courts are tilted in favor of abusive fathers and against protecting children. The courts developed practices to respond to domestic violence and child abuse when no research was available. The ACE (Adverse Childhood Experiences) Studies demonstrate courts minimize the harm from abuse when courts fail to consider current research. The Saunders Study establishes that most court professionals do not have the specific domestic violence expertise needed, which leads to courts disbelieving true reports of abuse.
The harm to children from the widespread use of flawed practices to respond to abuse is heartbreaking. One-quarter of children in the United States are sexually abused before they reach 18. Every year 58,000 children are sent for custody or unprotected visitation with dangerous abusers. In the last ten years, over 700 children involved in contested custody have been murdered, mostly by abusive fathers.
A study of these murders asked judges in the communities where the tragedies were committed what reforms had been created, and their shocking answer was none because they all assumed the local murder was an exception. In many cases, judges who gave the killers access to the children immediately denied they made a mistake. The court system acted defensively in quickly supporting the judge instead of investigating if practices could be improved. Imagine how much better-protected children would be if the courts launched a campaign to learn from these tragedies, and the judges who caused the murders said, “Don’t be like me!”
Studies about gender bias in the courts have found widespread bias against women litigants. A typical example is holding women to a higher standard of proof. Domestic violence and sexual assault are some of the most impactful crimes, and they are overwhelmingly committed against girls and women. These crimes cost the United States trillions of dollars annually, but more importantly, often ruin the lives of women.
Almost all domestic violence and sexual assault are committed in private for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, the public and professionals who should know better expect eyewitness corroboration or else fall back on the myth that women frequently make false reports of abuse. During the Kavanaugh hearings, his supporters discounted a credible report of attempted rape because there was no eyewitness support for the victim’s charges. Senator Susan Collins said she would confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court because in order to be fair, he must be considered innocent until proven guilty. This would mean that absent a criminal conviction that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt, Kavanaugh must be qualified for appointment to the Supreme Court. The dispute created enormous public attention and media coverage, and yet I never heard anyone discuss the unequal level of proof required only of the victim.
Innocent until proven guilty is an essential principle of our jurisprudence, but is routinely misunderstood in ways that harm women. The restriction applies only to criminal cases and limits prosecutors and courts. No reasonable parent would let their child play at the home of someone charged with child sexual abuse based on innocent until proven guilty. Nevertheless, family courts routinely treat a lack of conviction for crimes that often go unreported for safety and other good reasons, as if it were proof the reports must be false.
These mistaken assumptions place an unnecessary burden on women and children who are victims of gendered crimes. I would like to see the judges, police, legislators, and reporters start training their colleagues, “Don’t be like me.”
Understanding white supremacy, male supremacy, and other oppressions is extremely difficult—for those who gain an unearned advantage. On social media, I frequently see statements that start, “I don’t see why… From a literal point of view, they are telling the truth. It was very easy for a white man like me to go about my life oblivious to my unearned privileges and ready to deny my offensive behavior. Good people can easily engage in racist or sexist behavior.
I remember listening to a sports talk station, and Yankee manager Joe Torre made the point that domestic violence should be considered a men’s issue because we are the ones who can and should take responsibility to end domestic violence.
One of the biggest obstacles is overcoming the extreme defensiveness from people who have lived their lives oblivious to their unearned privileges. I will never play center field in Yankee Stadium or lead the Yankees to another world championship. But those of us with unearned privilege have the opportunity to accomplish something even better than a championship by saying, “Don’t be like me.” Thank you, Mickey.
Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.