Kwame Harris, former 49ers first-round draft pick and retired NFL offensive lineman, could spend up to nine years in jail after being slapped with felony charges for domestic violence. The story is notable for a few reasons. 1) The case magnifies the issue of post-retirement mental health amongst NFL players; 2) Harris beat an ex-boyfriend, making him one of the sparingly few publicly gay former football players; and 3) The fight stemmed from an argument about soy sauce. Like, the condiment.
According to the suit Harris faces, on August 21, Harris was out with his ex-boyfriend Dimitri Geier at a Chinese restaurant in the Bay Area, and said he would drive Geier to San Francisco International Airport for a flight after the meal. During the meal, Geier poured some soy sauce on rice, which reportedly led to an argument between the two.
The argument escalated in the parking lot of the restaurant when Harris rescinded his offer to drive Geier to the airport. Geier went to get his bags from Harris’ car, where Harris allegedly pulled Geier’s pants down and accused him of stealing his underwear. Violence ensued on both ends, but based on the following injuries sustained by Geier (which are not pretty), prosecutors charged only Harris with abuse charges, deeming that he started the violence and Geier was acting in self-defense.
The punches from Harris broke bones around Geier’s eye socket and led a metal plate being installed in his face and other surgeries, said his attorney Craig Charles. He added Geier, who had been in a four-year, on and off relationship with Harris, may require more surgery because the metal plate has shifted.
Now, we don’t know what Harris’ and Geier’s relationship was like. Four years of on-and-off sounds pretty serious to me, and perhaps the two have such an extensive history where all it takes to set someone off is soy sauce. But when all it takes to set someone off is soy sauce, don’t we have to raise the question of mental health? The fact that Harris is gay is an ironic sidebar, if only because Vikings punter Chris Kluwe — noted gay rights activist — trolled commish Roger Goodell regarding the issue of player safety on the same day Harris was due in court. And it’s certainly interesting that Harris is now one of the sparingly few publicly gay current or former pro athletes, but the real issue here is certainly whether or not such a violent beating can be linked to the violent beatings Harris took as an offensive lineman for seven years in the NFL.
That having been said, if it was a girlfriend Harris beat up instead of a boyfriend, we would almost certainly be looking at this differently, more heinously, more ready to draw the link between playing in the NFL and lingering mental health issues. But really, boyfriend or girlfriend, it should be treated as one and the same. I’m not an alarmist, nor do I think we’re trying to fish for causality where there is none, but a former football player dented a significant other’s face with his fists in a spat that started over soy sauce. Regardless of gender and sexuality and double standards, this was a severe case of domestic abuse that happened because a former football player was upset about soy sauce. You can say it over and over again and it won’t make it any easier to understand.
As for Harris, he was bailed out of jail for $75,000 and his hearing has been pushed back from Feb. 25 to April 29.
[San Mateo County Times, Getty Images]