Another NFL Fumble on Domestic Violence

Purple Ribbon

Once again, the NFL has fumbled the issue of domestic violence.

This time, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay is the latest athlete who is shining a spotlight on an issue that impacts 20 people every minute — but make no mistake, not for the same reasons as other players.

The NFL has fined William Gay $5,797 for a uniform violation. His crime? Wearing purple cleats to honor his mother Carolyn, who was killed in a domestic violence incident when William was seven years old.

In case we’ve forgotten, this is the same NFL whose commissioner, Roger Goodell, stated just over a year ago that his own “disciplinary decision [in the Ray Rice incident] led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”  

Despite the “No More” commercials, which include William Gay, some of us are still questioning the NFL’s sincerity, commitment, and understanding of this issue. We only need to look to October itself, long known for being the most ridiculous month in the NFL.

With every player’s shoelace, every sportscaster’s tie, and every stadium’s field blitzed in every possible hue of pink and fuchsia to commemorate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NFL’s actions ignore that October also happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What  we don’t see — and what I’m convinced we will never see, at least while Roger Goodell reigns as commissioner — is any speck of purple during October.  It seems as if the NFL would like to pretend that domestic violence would just go the hell away already.

Don’t we all.

Which is exactly why it is downright ridiculous and hypocritical for the NFL to fine William Gay for his efforts to call attention to victims of domestic violence — and, as his personal story illustrates, the lasting impact on the 1 in 15 children who are exposed to intimate partner violence each year.

Were his shoes intentionally worn to cause a stir?  Maybe.  Was it a uniform violation? OK, yeah. But here’s the thing: you can’t say you’re going to do more about domestic violence, then not do all that much (from a public perspective, anyway) and then penalize a player for demonstrating his support in a modest way — especially when you’re doing the same thing by emblazoning everything in sight with a headache-inducing hue of pink for another equally worthy cause. That shows a lack of basic common sense at its best and a complete disrespect for the victims of domestic violence and their families at its worst.

The NFL needs to take another good, hard look at what it purports to stand for. If nothing else, the League should look to William Gay as an example and use October — and every month — to do even more meaningful work toward helping victims, raising awareness and becoming a true partner in helping to end the epidemic of domestic violence. (I’ve blogged previously about concrete ways they can do just that.)

They can start by forgiving William Gay’s $5,797 fine outright or donating the full amount (and then some, because that amount is pennies to the NFL) to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Unlike the NFL, which also holds a nonprofit designation, WC&S will most certainly put those funds to better use than the League will. Consider it an employer contribution in honor of William Gay’s advocacy and volunteer work with WC&S.

Either way, the NFL has a chance to use this incident as a way to put their money, their mouths and their ridiculous policies towards furthering a cause they claim to care so much about.

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