A Culture of Domestic Violence in the NFL

I’m a football fan. I’ve been watching the Patriots play since Drew Bledsoe was the model of the stiff-legged quarterback, and I’ve recently carved out a spot in my heart for the poor, poor Browns. So when I begin this post with a title that declares the NFL to have a culture of domestic violence, it is not from a place of malice towards an out-group or of ignorance of a culture. Instead it is from a place of pain and with a sadness in my heart that I admit that this thing I love, this part of so many of us, has an attitude of passivity towards the violent behavior that players impose upon their families.

Ray Rice was seen dragging his fiancée by the hair through a casino. The NFL did not pursue additional information, including the tape that was later obtained by TMZ.  Instead they ignored it and banned Rice for two games. It was only when their hands were forced that they instituted a serious ban. Adrian Peterson was known to be facing charges of child endangerment/child abuse. He was allowed to play for his team until a warrant was put out for his arrest. Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case was also not a surprise. These are not small time players, and this is not a couple isolated incidents. These are some of the NFL’s biggest stars and This. Is. A. Problem.

Like many young men, I played football in high school. I had been watching the sport for years and I saw a chance to do something that seemed ‘manly’, that showed toughness. How is abusing your children manly? How is dragging your unconscious fiancée around by her hair being tough? Protip: these actions are neither manly nor tough.

NFL teams’ responses have been as poor as the league responses. Two of the three players mentioned above are currently on the NFL’s “exempt/commissioner” list, a designation that is rarely used but was intended to give players time to address “off the field issues”. Both Peterson and Hardy, by the way, are still being paid their salary while they are on “leave”. That’s over $700,000 per week for Hardy. Past NFL players who have been placed on this list include Michael Vick, who was sent to prison for his role in a dog fighting ring. Basically it’s a way for teams to take their legally troubled players out of the limelight and off the field until the trouble blows over.

This statement leads me back to the problem I mention in my first paragraph, the problematic attitude of passivity towards domestic violence that the NFL has exhibited. Perhaps passivity is even too weak a word. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that that the NFL chose not to act, chose to turn a blind eye to the domestic violence problem that it has, and in doing so tacitly encouraged this culture of violence in the home. The NFL estimates that over 40% of its fan base in female. Mr. Goodell, how can you encourage the abuse of women when they make up over a third of your fan base? How can you encourage the abuse of children, who may want to grow up to play the very game that has in some way influenced they violence they faced in their own lives?

A post by Angela Barney was featured on this blog a couple weeks ago highlighting the lack of initial punishment in the Rice case and focusing on the sometimes appalling responses to the case from some ESPN and other news anchors. Ms. Barney’s post covers those topics better than I could hope to, and articulates some greater societal problems that we have with the issue. As an entity that provides role models for millions of children, as an intrinsic part of American culture, the NFL needs to do better. Roger Goodell’s apology for choosing to ignore evidence and suspend Rice only two games is not enough. The new policy is a step in the right direction, but it is still not enough. The NFL needs to take responsibility for its actions. It needs to admit that it was wrong, and that it has been ignoring what is truly a problem that is faced by its players and those they love. It needs to step up and get help for all those involved and implement programs to educate players and prevent these problems from occurring in the first place. Until then their fans, their sponsors, and the world will be left wondering whether football is the same American staple is has been, or whether it will cease to be a place where role models and good work ethic can be demonstrated and extolled.

I close this post as I opened it, a fan of football waiting for Sunday to watch my teams play. I hope that is not a decision I find myself regretting.

- Written by Eric R. McCurdy

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