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NFL Soft on Domestic Violence

NFL players are known for their brutality on the field. But increasingly, they are grabbing headlines for their violence off the field – often in their own homes.

This past week, police released journal entries, emails, and letters written by Josh Brown, a top placekicker with the New York Giants. In the documents, Brown admits a history of domestic violence against his wife. Specifically, he reveals that he has “physically, verbally and emotionally abused” his wife and treated her like a “slave”. In fact, he claims that he has “been abusive to women all the way back to the age of 7”.

Brown joins the ranks of a long-list of NFL players. In the last few years alone, Jonathan Dwyer broke his wife’s nose, Bruce Miller pushed his fiancee, Greg Hardy battered his girlfriend, Johnny Manziel hit and threatened his girlfriend. And, perhaps most infamously, Ray Rice punched his girlfriend in an elevator, leaving her unconscious.

In response to these events and the resulting public outcry, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell committed to “take steps towards preventing domestic violence and sexual assault before they happen”. Among other actions, the NFL instituted mandatory domestic violence training for all players and staff, created Critical Response Teams, and partnered with a domestic violence hotline. Furthermore, the NFL overhauled the Personal Conduct Policy for players. The policy now includes a 6 game “baseline” suspension for players who commit domestic abuse.

But a policy can’t deter offences if it is not enforced. And, as it turns out, “only one player has received the six-game suspension that…Goodell promised”. Hardy got a 4 game suspension, Dwyer got three, Brown got one, and Manziel and Miller got…zero! These rulings are not only insulting but inconsistent, helping players “appeal their punishments, often successfully”.

Not surprisingly, fan and media outrage is growing. In a passionate opinion piece, columnist Nancy Armour lambasted the NFL’s “continued disregard for women”. She highlighted the hypocrisy of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign, saying “As the league plasters its fields with pink ribbons all month…to fool us into thinking it cares for the health of its female fans, you only need to look at the New York Giants’ roster to see what a farce it is”. She describes Brown’s one game suspension as “little more than a timeout”, noting that Tom Brady was forced to miss four games for “deflategate”.

The National Organization for Women has also “come down hard on the NFL”. It has called on the league to be more responsive, rather than cultivating a “culture of turning a blind eye”. In the words of President Terry O’Neill, “The NFL has lost its way. It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem.”

Some NFL players are even weighing in. Philadelphia Eagles center Jason Kelce said “It’s a joke a guy like [Brown] is able to play this quickly”. Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, who watched his mother suffer abuse during his childhood, added via Twitter “what a shame NFL acts like it cares.”

As of press-time, the NFL has decided to put Brown on temporary leave with pay. To many, it is another empty gesture. So what will force the NFL to take this issue seriously..to finally “re-order its priorities”? Maybe we need to hit them where it hurts – by boycotting NFL games, tv coverage, and merchandise.

To learn more about domestic abuse, or to help prevent it, please contact our partners, Someone Worth Accepting Now, Gracehaven House, Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence, and Turning Point of Lehigh Valley.