Score or Fumble? The NFL Tackles Domestic Violence. (Finally.)

Purple Ribbon

It’s wrong to hurt other people. Hurting other people is a very, very bad thing.

Most of us learn this life lesson pretty well sometime during our earliest years. Then there are some people who grow up, become football players, make unfathomable amounts of money, and think there’s no difference between tackling your opponent on the field and tackling your girlfriend until she’s unconscious or dead.

This mindset has been business-as-usual in the NFL for decades. Now, if Commissioner Roger Goodell is to be believed, the new football season has ushered in a new attitude. In a letter sent to all 32 team owners, Goodell wrote:

“My 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.”

You’ll forgive me for not performing a shaking my ass, pointing to the sky celebratory endzone dance for you.

I should be. But I can’t, and here’s why.

I spent five years working at Laurel House, a domestic violence agency in suburban Philadelphia, and during that time, had the opportunity to coordinate several fundraising events and domestic violence awareness projects with Coach Andy Reid and his wife Tammy during their tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Reids’ commitment and compassion to helping victims of domestic violence – often in private, off-camera ways – was something genuine and that our agency saw often. I’m grateful for having had that experience and for getting to know them in the way I did. The Philadelphia Eagles also lent their support – both financial and by having players involved – to our events. And more.

What we in Philadelphia knew was something the rest of the NFL didn’t. We knew that having the strength of the Eagles brand during 14 mostly pretty damn good seasons (no matter how the Reid era ended) was some of the most powerful advertising, advocacy and awareness for domestic violence that a nonprofit could have dreamed of. It was our personal Gatorade bucket challenge.

Imagine how different the NFL would be today if each one of the 31 teams had been doing this work alongside us for the past 14 years. We always wondered how much more magnified that message of prevention and awareness could have been if it was shouted throughout every stadium.

I’d like to believe Goodell is sincere and truthful about taking a stand against domestic violence. The reality is that attitudes about domestic violence change slowly, and usually not with press releases or letters hung up in locker rooms, especially in cultures that are indoctrinated to think otherwise. The NFL has been in overtime on this issue for entirely too long.

Now there’s a mandate and an opportunity for teams to partner with the experts in their communities to educate everyone from their players to the fans to the front office staff to the guy hawking the beers in the stands on how to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and how to get help for yourself or someone in crisis. It will take staff and funding and time – all of which are in short supply at domestic violence agencies across the country – but the NFL is a well-funded machine and has the dollars to do this right if they choose to do so.

As they kickoff a new season, here are two things the NFL can do within the next 60 days to demonstrate their commitment to helping to educate people about domestic violence.

1. Remove O.J. Simpson From the Hall of Fame. 
It’s been 20 years since the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and yet O.J Simpson, former running back for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, still remains a member of the Hall of Fame.

In his letter, Goodell writes: “Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be …violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child. A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL.”

If Pete Rose can be banned from baseball for gambling, then O.J. can be removed from the Hall of Fame for practically beheading his ex-wife and companion while his children slept upstairs.

2. Drop the ball on the pink. 
Hey, have you heard about this disease called breast cancer? You have? I think most of us are Very Goddamned Aware of breast cancer. Then why, pray tell, do we really need the NFL to go all Pretty In Pink every October?

Between the fuchsia ties on the NFL Gameday hosts and the shoelaces on the players, October makes me long for the days of black-and-white television. (Yeah, buddy, I’m old enough to remember that.)  I don’t mean any disrespect to any of my friends or family who have been through this battle, but everyone knows someone who either has or has had breast cancer, most people know where to get answers and help (hint: another of my former employers, the American Cancer Society is a great resource).

Did you know that October happens to also be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Oh, you didn’t? I’m betting the NFL didn’t know that, either. What if, in addition to wearing purple, each NFL team distributed purple ribbons at every Sunday game in October along with instructions about what to do if you think someone is in an abusive relationship?

What if they launched a national campaign?

What if a DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) was stationed on-site at every game, for counseling?

What if the NFL created a foundation that would support direct services in local communities for education and shelter and legal assistance for domestic violence victims, and what if a significant, substantial, meaningful percentage (I’m talking almost 50%) of ticket sales from October went towards domestic violence services in each team’s local community?

I’m encouraged by Roger Goodell’s letter – and heartened that it includes some specific examples of ways that the NFL plans to change. Since January 2000, there have been 77 players involved in 85 domestic violence incidents so forgive me for feeling like this is too little, too late. The League has a history and a reputation of fumbling the ball on this issue.

Only time will tell if the NFL scores a touchdown on this one.  I’ll be watching.

And waiting to do my celebratory dance in the endzone.

 

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One thought on “Score or Fumble? The NFL Tackles Domestic Violence. (Finally.)

  1. Lisa Weinstein

    Melissa, do you have any way to contact the NFL, or at least Andy Reid. This blog should be shared! Did you know that before ACS I worked at a Domestic Violence shelter in Philly. I feel just as strongly as you!
    Great blog!

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