Warning: This column contains depictions of alleged domestic violence.
Abusers are abusive for control.
They can be emotionally abusive, verbally abusive and physically abusive.
Often those three things happen in concert: An abuser will strike their victim, including name-calling or putdowns, and then say “look what you made me do” or “I wouldn’t have done that if you hadn’t done what you did.”
Or, in the case alleged against PGA Tour golfer Tom Pernice Jr., they flat-out deny that their physical strikes are abuse.
On Wednesday, Sports Illustrated published a story by Jessica Luther and Jon Wertheim detailing the on-again, off-again relationship between Pernice and MaryAnn O’Neill, a relationship that included Pernice allegedly becoming violent toward O’Neill on multiple occasions, and the PGA doing little in response.
It isn’t a surprise that the Tour doesn’t seem to have a firm domestic violence policy, nor is it much of a surprise that, to this point, Pernice’s only known punishment was a 90-day suspension that he appealed and got reduced to 30 days plus anger management therapy.
Nor is it a surprise that in a statement provided to Sports Illustrated, Pernice’s attorney didn’t stop at denying the allegations on behalf of his client, he also called O’Neill a “liar” and “thief” with a “distorted version of the facts” because the only thing more reliable than death and taxes is a man smearing a woman who says she has experienced abuse.
We’ve seen similar behavior, repeatedly, from Deshaun Watson’s attorney Rusty Hardin when talking about the many women who have accused the Cleveland Browns quarterback of sexual impropriety under the guise of getting a massage.
O’Neill called police more than once after one of Pernice’s alleged violent outbursts, and she tried more than once to quietly get help from PGA Tour executives.
One of the times Pernice allegedly struck O’Neill was in May 2021. Pernice had played terribly at the Regions Traditions, a stop on the Champions Tour held just outside Birmingham, Alabama. Like, 31-over-par terrible.
As they drove to the next tour stop outside Atlanta, Pernice and O’Neill began arguing because he’d reached out to his ex-wife earlier in the day. From the driver’s seat, O’Neill says Pernice began repeatedly punching her on the leg and took her phone.
O’Neill used her iPad to message a friend, and after the friend’s recommendation, began secretly recording the incident on her device. O’Neill provided the text messages and audio to SI.
She asked him, “How do you just, like, beat your girlfriend? And then stop and go through a drive-thru and eat and then listen to Christian music for two and a half hours?”
Pernice replied, “Because you won’t keep your mouth shut. I kept warning you to keep your mouth shut and quit doing it. You have no consequences. You think you can say and do whatever the f***, what you think you can do. I’m tired of it. Not gonna happen.”
“So, OK, you’re just gonna beat me?,” she responded.
“What else am I gonna do? I hit you f****** in the leg. I’m not beating you,” he said.
And that’s where we’re going to pause.
Serial abusers tend not to be the most stand-up people, but this pernicious lie — the gaslighting — that hitting someone repeatedly with a closed fist isn’t “beating” them, that needs to be highlighted.
This is part of the reason why abuse continues on a broad scale. Pernice reportedly saying that using a closed fist to hit O’Neill again and again isn’t beating her would be a way to try to make himself feel better, to convince himself he’s not one of those kind of abusers. He wasn’t allegedly giving O’Neill black eyes or breaking her arm, hurting her in ways that were clearly visible to the public and are the Hollywood version of domestic abuse.
It’s similar to how some might believe as long as they’re not running around calling Black people the N-word, they’re not being racist, and can continue denying pregnant Black women equal medical care or ignoring the job application submitted by perfectly qualified Jamal because that’s different.
What O’Neill alleges happened at the hands of Pernice is abuse. Period. It’s not something less or different because she wasn’t cowering on a bathroom floor, blood dripping from her nose.
Nor is his allegedly violent behavior acceptable because when he wasn’t being abusive toward O’Neill, he was “the most loving caregiver of all time,” according to her. That too is straight out of the abuser’s playbook: maintain a loving facade, right up until those moments when you’re not. Then apologize, offer a loving gesture, rinse, repeat.
Maybe to some of you, this is all obvious or unnecessary to point out. But clearly there are some who need to read it.
Including, it sounds like, Tom Pernice Jr.