BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) For Troy Vincent, the bloody sights and bone-chilling sounds are as raw today as they were when he was an 8-year-old, huddling with his younger brother in a closet while his mother was being beaten by a boyfriend.
Rather than repress those painful memories, Vincent is driven to share them. The NFL’s vice president of football operations has taken a vocal stance against domestic violence. To stay silent, he feels, would mean condoning what occurred.
”There’s no such thing as an innocent bystander,” Vincent said. ”What does your silence imply? If I’m watching it and I’m seeing it or I’m hearing and I’m just saying, `You know what, that’s not my problem.’ Well it is your problem. It’s all of our problem.”
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Vincent took a public role for the NFL in the aftermath of the league’s mishandling of Ray Rice’s suspension in December 2014, breaking down during a six-minute opening statement at a Senate committee hearing . In fact, he often gets emotional speaking about the topic – and his mother.
And it’ll likely happen again when he gives a talk at Niagara University on Tuesday.
The former NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year speaks from experience, from that closet in Trenton, New Jersey, where he and his brother hid, their little hands tightly cupping their ears to mute what was taking place on the other side of the thin wall.
Vincent lists all the times he called 911, sought help from neighbors, wiped bloody lips, soothed a swollen jaw or came home to learn his mother was back in the hospital – leaving Vincent to guess which one.
”When you say witness, I saw everything,” Vincent said. ”You’re being awakened by a scream or a moan. You’re hearing the door slam. The experience of walking out, peeking out a door and someone is lying in a pool of blood.”
This is what drives him to tears.
Vincent hasn’t been spared the trouble as an adult, either – two of his children were molested by people close to his family.
Rather than turn to vengeance, the deeply religious Vincent instead holds firm to his message.
It’s a message of rehabilitation and forgiveness, a stance that is regarded as controversial by some. Vincent argues perpetrators need more avenues to get help. That includes Rice.
And, the former defensive back and NFL Players Association president added, it also includes those who assaulted his children.
”There are times in my mind where I want to do things or take action out. But what good does that do? Who loses there?” Vincent said. ”If I don’t forgive, then God can’t move our family because my heart’s hard.”
Katie Ray-Jones, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, agrees with Vincent. Punishment can’t be the only solution when a majority of couples in abusive relationships stay together, she said.
Aside from counseling victims, the hotline has also had contact with perpetrators.
”They don’t know where to go. And they’re feeling shameful or they’re frustrated because they don’t know that they’re responsible for what’s happened in their relationship,” Ray-Jones said. ”Men need to have outlets where they can go and talk about this.”
This is why Vincent’s message resonated with Ray-Jones in 2014, even as the NFL was criticized for being too lenient on domestic violence. Rice was initially suspended for two games for punching his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, and dragging her unconscious body by the feet from an elevator of a casino.
Rice is grateful for Vincent’s support and counsel.
”You’ve got to give a man credit when he’s able to acknowledge his past,” Rice said. ”When you’re talking about having courage and having faith and not worrying about pushback or anything, he’s telling his story. And I think that’s very honorable.”
Vincent’s story has helped inspire Rice to speak out on domestic violence.
”That’s his therapy, him telling his story,” Rice said. ”He knows you have a certain duty to help people out.”
Former linebacker Takeo Spikes played with Vincent in Buffalo and said hearing Vincent speak at a domestic abuse discussion in Atlanta was like ”someone hit me in the gut.”
Spikes addressed the group, recalling the time he held court in the Bills locker room, looking at the women pictured in a gentleman’s magazine. Vincent pulled him aside and questioned what he was doing.
”He said, `There’s plenty of other things that you can consume your mind with outside of football that can help you grow as a person,”’ Spikes recalled. ”And he just walked away.”
Spikes stewed for a moment and stared down at the magazine.
”I never even told him this. After, I couldn’t turn that next page, I just closed the magazine and put it in the trash,” Spikes said.
Desire’ Vincent was working in New York City in 2014, when she turned on the TV to watch her father address the Senate committee hearing on professional sports and domestic violence. She never expected him to grow so emotional.
”Just to see him be so vulnerable and be so open, it was really encouraging and it was really moving,” said Vincent’s daughter, a sexual assault survivor. ”But it moved me to tears as well.”
She wanted to reach through the TV to hug and comfort him, because she knows what drives her father.
Troy Vincent is aware of the impact his discussions can have, and is struck by the number of survivors who approach him afterward.
”You know the look in their eye because you’ve seen it,” Vincent said. ”And they’re just waiting for that moment, and they give you a hug and they say, `Thank you, that was me.’ Or they’ll say, `Thank you, can you help me?”’
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