There has been plenty of warning

Joan Smith reminds us that footballers and movie stars can also be men who punch women in the face.

Imagine a man hitting his partner. The picture that comes to mind probably involves a scruffy individual, his hand raised and his face contorted with fury. We can all condemn that, can’t we? But what if the angry face is familiar, seen thousands of times in a very different context? If it belongs, say, to the world’s most famous and admired footballer, Diego Maradona?

He was very good at getting the ball into the net, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a violent bully. That’s a very complicated thought, I know, but it’s true.

Domestic abuse is routinely overlooked or rendered invisible, especially if the alleged perpetrator is an elite sportsman or famous actor. When the Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, commentators initially bought his story that he believed she was an intruder. It was only much later, and after protracted legal proceedings, that Pistorius was found guilty of murder.

Last month glowing tributes were paid to the Scottish actor Sean Connery – recipient of a knighthood, among other honours – who had died at the age of 90. Like Maradona’s, his biography had an irresistible rags-to-riches element, with lots of references to the fact that he left school at 14 and did manual labour before becoming a hugely successful actor. “Our nation is today mourning one of our best-loved sons,” said Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Predictably, most of the accounts of his life glossed over allegations that Connery was violent towards his first wife, the Australian actress Diane Cilento, leaving her bruised and battered. In her autobiography, published in 2006, Cilento described locking herself in a bathroom for protection after Connery hit her in the face, knocking her to the floor, and a second blow “sent me flying”.

It’s not even as if he was a repentant abuser. “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman – although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man,” he said in an interview with Playboy in 1965. “An open-handed slap is justified, if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning.”

Nothing particularly wrong with that, eh what?

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