CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Though Carolina Panthers fans can’t be happy with the Sunday night thrashing their team took in a nationally televised game against Pittsburgh, they didn’t mind thinking about football – just football. But even as Steelers and Panthers fans exchanged some pre-game trash talk while enjoying a meal in the Carolina sunshine, they had some things to say about the issue of domestic violence, one that has enmeshed NFL leadership and the team that plays in Charlotte.

In some ways, their sentiments were not that different from members of a panel of survivors of domestic violence the day before – both groups were critical of the NFL’s reaction to the Ray Rice episode but grateful that the issue is in the open. On Saturday, at a meeting of the Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists, three women added dimension to the image of victim. And fans and survivors found common ground.

From left, Rashida Gittens, moderator Lorenzo Brooks, Baseemah Hasan and Sandra Guynes discuss domestic violence and the NFL on Saturday in Charlotte. (Alexis Mitchell/Courtesy of Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists) From left, Rashida Gittens, moderator Lorenzo Brooks, Baseemah Hasan and Sandra Guynes discuss domestic violence and the NFL on Saturday in Charlotte. (Alexis Mitchell/Courtesy of Charlotte Area Association of Black Journalists)

Sandra Guynes is president and founder of Pearls for Creative Healing, which helps survivors of domestic violence through creative art programs. Survivors, she said, are too often portrayed as victims, “sad, somber, locked up” instead of who they are “on the other side.” Guynes, a survivor of domestic violance, said, “You can move forward in life.” Raised in a Catholic home where divorce was not common, she said she was told by family members remarking on the strife in her marriage that “you need to work it out.”

Guynes said she would sometimes throw things when she was attacked by her spouse. “It felt like I was doing something – showing some signs of life.” She finally pressed charges after calling the police six times. Even then, she said, she felt for the husband who was pleading with her through the police car window, pledging to do better.

When people ask why you stayed, said Baseemah Hasan, they forget that “this is a relationship – at some point we had love.” Hasan, who said domestic violence can affect men and women and can be emotional and financial, as well as physical, said the birth of her son was her wake-up call. She didn’t want him to see the marital violence as “normal.”

Rashida Gittens said her former husband threatened to kill her if she left, and “I believed him.” She left after eight years and two children. Gittens said family, friends and employers should be more understanding and supportive, but she sees progress. “Now, we see,” she said, especially after the case of Baltimore Ravens player Rice, who was finally fired from the team and suspended from the NFL after he was seen on video beating the woman who has since become his wife in an elevator.

Gittens, who works at Duke Energy, said that though NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is “clueless,” he’s trying. She agrees with criticism that the NFL panel of domestic violence advisers needs to add women of color and be more diverse. “Where are the men?” she asked.

On football Sunday, Panthers fan Gene Mobley was with his wife and 8-year-old daughter at an outdoor table at Mert’s Heart & Soul restaurant before the game. He said he was ready “for some good entertainment, what the game is meant for.” But he said it was good that the NFL’s problems have brought attention to the issue of domestic violence. “It’s still the Bible belt,” he said. “Everything happens for a purpose.”

He may not agree with his wife, Zeritta Mobley, on her team choice (she was wearing a Steelers jersey), but they both think the Panthers were right in keeping player Greg Hardy off the field until his domestic violence case is resolved in court. “There should be no tolerance for that,” Zeritta Mobley said.

Gene Mobley was an outside linebacker when he played college football at Appalachian State, and he’s still a big guy, “a big teddy bear,” said his wife. Football is a sport, one she enjoys watching, said Zeritta Mobley. Domestic violence, she said, is serious. “People need to be educated.”