What Do the National Football League and the Medicis Have In Common?
It goes a lot deeper than bling and big houses. If you were to say “trophy wives,” you’d be warm, but the Medici women were prizes themselves, at least as wealthy and glamorous in their own right as any starlet or supermodel.
The rather sordid and sinister answer is: domestic violence.
During the course of my research for INGLORIOUS ROYAL MARRIAGES, when I came to the chapter on the 16th century unions of the stunning heiress, Isabella Romola de Medici to Paolo Giordano Orsini, the scion of a prestigious Roman family; and that of Isabella’s incredibly warped younger brother Pietro de Medici to their beautiful and spirited cousin Eleonora di Garzia di Toledo, little did I realize how relevant their stories would become to current events.
To me, the horrific events of these two Medici marriages were shocking. I have written about countless royal unions, both connubial and extramarital. Because most royal marriages were arranged, and therefore not love matches, it’s no wonder that they failed to some extent—that there was acrimony, or adultery. But murder? And not the Henry VIII-trumped-up-charges-of-high-treason sort. But the kind of spousal assault designed to look like an accident where the husband then weeps crocodile tears. And gets away with it.
Fast-forward to the O.J. Simpson trial in 1996. Or only recently, when Ray Rice seemed to think it was ok to sock his then-fiancée-now-wife (who therefore can’t testify against him) in an elevator. Rice was steamed that a gossip blog released the hotel’s security camera footage. Because otherwise he would have gotten away with attacking his woman. The NFL was prepared to put their heads in the sand over the entire incident until the commissioner was compelled to go to the videotape.
We don’t have actual royalty in America. Those who are doomed to remember history will recall that we fought a war to NOT have a king. But we still love the idea of royalty, so we anoint football players (or other pro-ballers). Or pop/rock/hip-hop, etc., stars. Or Hollywood icons. Queen Bey. Prince. The money they earn from their talent on the gridiron or catwalk or soundstage buys untold riches, glitter, and power. And more often than not, a get-out-of-jail-free card as well, just like the Medici men of the Italian Renaissance, who whored and dueled and murdered with impunity, although their wives were hardly permitted to live by those same social codes.
Isabella Romola de Medici was a Daddy’s girl, protected during his lifetime by her father, the powerful Cosimo, Duke of Florence. But after Cosimo died in April 1574, Isabella’s oldest brother Francesco became Duke; and he had no use for his flamboyant sibling. Not only did he refuse to aid her when she complained of her husband’s mistreatment, he abetted Paolo in covering up the circumstances of her death. Francesco would do the same when his brother Pietro strangled their cousin Eleonora with a dog leash. The girl was a flirt, they concurred. She deserved it. Instead of Pietro being punished, Eleonora’s name and reputation were smeared and the family honor was considered tarnished by her behavior.
The Ravens’ Ray Rice is not the only NFL player in recent memory to physically abuse his partner. In 2012, K.C. Chiefs’ Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend, then committed suicide in the stadium parking lot, in front of his coach. If only he’d started with himself, instead. In June of 2013, Pacman Jones of the Cincinnati Bengals was arrested on assault charges for punching a woman outside a nightclub. In the summer of 2012, Chad Johnson of the Miami Dolphins was charged with head-butting his newlywed wife outside their home. He was released on bond a day or so after his arrest, but the team cut him within 24 hours of his release. That same summer, Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant was arrested on a domestic violence charge involving his mother. Evidently, during a family visit, Bryant’s mother had become upset at him and asked him to leave, whereupon he allegedly assaulted her.
The power and privilege conferred upon these princes, whether by birth, marriage, or their ability to get the ball into the end zone has all too often given them a pass when it comes to the issue of domestic violence. Months ago, when I wrote my chapter on the two Medici marriages, I thought I’d encountered a “one-off.” But recent headlines tell another story. Whether the perpetrators wear the red, white, and green of the Medici, or the colors of an NFL franchise, their behavior is not much different. Title or not, these men feel entitled. And is it because we, as a society, have conferred the mantle of royalty upon them, that they somehow believe themselves above the law—and their women beneath contempt?
As “Linda Richman” used to say on SNL’s “Coffee Talk”—discuss!