NFL and domestic abuse: the league can and won’t do more

NFL and domestic abuse: the league can and won’t do more

Photo Credits: CAITLYN SAMPLEY / AGGIE FILE

The NFL is doing next to nothing to limit or punish domestic abusers

October is National Domestic Abuse Awareness Month, and there’s good reason for dedicating a month to this issue. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year, with an uncounted number of nonphysical abuse. From 2001 to 2012, twice as many women were murdered by partners or ex-partners than the number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the same time period. Domestic violence is a major issue in our country and the NFL is a hotspot for it — yet they are doing nothing to stop it.

In 2014, Ray Rice received a two-game suspension for knocking out his fiancé in an elevator and dragging her through a hallway — a sentence notably shorter than the year-long suspension that Josh Gordon received for smoking weed. The Rice incident was one that the league and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knew about, but suspended him only two games for. Following subsequent backlash when video surfaced of the incident to the public, he was then suspended indefinitely. Nothing changed from what the NFL knew about the incident — it was third-degree domestic abuse all the same. When the incident got into the hands of the people and not the money-gobbling executives in the NFL (of which Ray Rice was a product), the reality of the incident was realized. That video — and the public’s reaction to it — led to minimal changes in the NFL’s domestic abuse discipline policy. 

Following the Ray Rice incident, Commissioner Goodell promised that the league, “can and will do more.” But the NFL has done nothing substantial to limit league-wide domestic abusers in the five years that have followed. The league implemented a new discipline policy that suspends players for six games. Okay, players are covered — barely — but what about coaches and staff?

A recent investigation by USA Today showed that the league does absolutely nothing to vet any assistant coaching hires or team staff, with zero guidelines for hiring. The responsibility of vetting coaches falls entirely on the team, and we know that many teams are just fine hiring players and coaches with a history of domestic abuse in order to win. A cursory internet search for allegations of domestic violence against NFL coaches easily yields alarming results: Vance Joseph, Tom Cable and Rick Slate (who has been arrested three times for domestic disputes). For a league that said it would do more, it looks an awful lot like they did the absolute least. 

Domestic abuse is nothing new to NFL players or personnel — just look at former NFL player OJ Simpson, the most notorious domestic abuser of all time. Every single year cases arise where the NFL seems to have zero clue on how to handle punishments and instances of domestic abuse. This year it was Antonio Brown, who is accused of rape in an ongoing investigation. Just last November, it was Rueben Foster who wasn’t suspended a single game, but was fined two game checks for his third count of domestic violence. Foster was cut by the 49ers and quickly claimed by the Redskins. “We got people who are in high, high, high, high places that have done far worse, if you look at it realistically,” said Redskins executive Doug Williams. If the NFL sends the message that the consequence of domestic violence is only a slap on the wrist and a different million dollar job, how can they claim to be doing anything to fix this problem?

Time after time the league and its teams have done nothing to punish players for incidents of domestic abuse. The only time they ever take action is when videos of players assaulting women are released by TMZ Sports. Otherwise, the league just hopes you’ll forget about it by the time Sunday rolls around and their players make freak plays on SportsCenter. 

In many ways, the NFL exists on a violent level. On nearly every game day this year I’ve seen a player knocked out immoble or unconscious. And it seems to just be status quo with everyone, both on and off of the field. If violence of that nature is just fine with the NFL every weekend, it is no wonder why they have done so little to address domestic violence and abuse. The NFL’s front against domestic abuse is just a public relations facade. One incident of domestic abuse is too many, but the NFL seems to be okay with dozens and dozens.

Written by: Calvin Coffee — cscoffee@ucdavis.edu

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