Domestic Violence and The National Football League

By Matthew Girello

While the Super Bowl may be the premier sports event of every New Year as two teams shed blood for the chance to hold the prestigious Vince Lombardi trophy, one can not over look the million dollar commercials. Among the ads being played during Super Bowl 50, there was an anti-domestic violence spot from the group No More. It was the second consecutive year that the organization aired an ad during the Super Bowl.

Domestic Violence and the National Football League have been unhappily coupled the past few years, perhaps no more prominently than in 2014. That of course is when hotel elevator footage surfaced of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice viciously striking his former fiancé Janay Palmer and knocking her out during an argument.

The video sent shock waves through the NFL and public media. The Ravens immediately cut Rice and the NFL suspended him barring an investigation. Since, Rice and Palmer have married and the NFL has reinstated Rice. However, he has yet to sign with a team and it could be a while if that ever does happen.

The video put the NFL and domestic violence right on the nation’s front burner, if only it was for a moment. It seemed, all of a sudden, when a video of the act surfaced everyone immediately wanted to jump up and punish Rice to the fullest extent. Words were put best by president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence Kim Gandy who said, “She’s not surprised that the nation’s attention has shifted.”

Domestic violence and the NFL are not new to each other. You can go all the way back to OJ Simpson who had a domestic violence case in the news and shined a bright spotlight on the issue but it eventually faded.

Nevertheless, the NFL has had the opportunity to discipline abusers even before the Rice video or the Greg Hardy allegations even before Rice or even BEFORE the new, tougher rules. The NFL has had a very broad latitude to punish players severely for it so why didn’t they until now? They didn’t because at the time they did not seem to feel it was a very big deal from their vantage point.

Today, it is a very big deal to the National Football League. Commissioner Roger Goodell has ramped up punishment for domestic violence infractions steeply. So much so that the league has gotten push-back from the NFL Players Association. Goodell has made it clear how the league and himself perceive this conduct, but why is this happening now?

Many players have been enfolded in domestic violence education and even been admitted to rehab. Still the news stories continue to pile up and Cleveland Browns Quarterback Johnny Manzeil is the most recent violator.

There must be a trend between football and domestic violence and a report released back in August 2015 proves this. The study published online in the Journal of Criminal Justice was performed at the University of Texas at Dallas. The report found that while NFL athletes on the whole are better behaved than the media reports, they also found that NFL players have been arrested for violent crimes at a rate above 20- and 30-something men as a whole in the 21st century overall. Violent crime, as categorized by the researchers, included things like murder, manslaughter, DUI manslaughter, robbery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, rape, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and kidnapping. The study covered from 2000-2013 and statistics came from the FBI which further adds to the issue that NFL players often have and has been so evidently clear. Not enough is being done even after the NFL revised its rules back in 2014.

Nonetheless, in shadows of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and other players who have been accused of assaulting their wives or girlfriends, including the disappointing responses to those cases still loom very largely over the sport. Over roughly eight hours of panels and speeches at the NFL’s first Women’s Summit of 2016, and not one speaker mentioned the leagues handling of its players who have been charged with committing domestic violence. Instead speakers spoke primarily about hiring more women, and boosting girls participation in athletics.

Domestic violence is a very serious problem that faces this country and the NFL believes they are taking a unique and comprehensive approach to fixing it. The league has made a long-term commitment to combat domestic abuse and sexual assault and will continue to educate the NFL family. This includes helping the general public learn how to identify signs of trouble and how to take action. To do so the NFL has pledged $5 million a year for 5 years to the National Domestic Violence Hotline to better serve more women.

Since funding began the hotline has been making a difference. Throughout the first six months of 2015 50,000 more calls were able to be answered than the previous year and calls continue to go up into 2016.

However, this is just what’s wrong with the NFL. What happens after 5 years of funding? Will every woman in America know how to deal with signs of trouble? Do they think they will eradicate domestic violence just by throwing money at it? The NFL has done a good job of dealing with immediate issues when they arise, but they must learn to look more down the road. This arguably began with OJ, faded off, popped up again, then faded again.

It is a vicious cycle that has plagued the NFL for decades and needs to be tackled once and for all. I understand that it is impossible to eradicate domestic violence as a whole but the NFL needs to remove the tag from its billion dollar industry’s name. Professional football players are supposed to be role models for kids, so a boy who dreams of one day playing in the league should not one day turn on ESPN to his favorite running back punching his fiancée. The NFL name continues to be tarnished by abuse cases. The NFL must do more than just spend money to end this once and for all so we can go back to caring about who will win the next Super Bowl and not next to get arrested.     

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