The Crackdown on NFL Domestic Violence
This summer has been a trying one for the NFL after falling under harsh criticism concerning the way its personal conduct policy handles domestic abuse and sexual assault. Now, with a new NFL domestic violence case starring Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer splashed across front pages, the NFL begins to re-think its personal conduct policies and re-evaluate the way it handles the abusive relationships of its players.
NFL Domestic Violence: The Background
In July 2014 Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was punished with a two-game suspension for assaulting his fiancée in February of the same year. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was widely criticized for being lenient with the player and for not taking actions that reflected an understanding of the gravity of domestic abuse. The situation was later rectified by the indefinite suspension of Rice, especially after the video of him punching his fiancée unconscious surfaced on the internet.
In August, Goodell issued a set of enhancements to the existing personal conduct policy bringing stricter punishments to abusive NFL employees and providing a range of reformatory steps that would better address the issues of domestic abuse and sexual assault. Not long after that, however, in September Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was officially charged with a domestic dispute case where his girlfriend was left with a broken nose. This turn of events has re-kindled questions about how effective the NFL’s personal conduct policy actually is when it comes to domestic abuse and whether it needs a more radical update.
NFL Domestic Violence Statistics
Although there are no specific statistics on NFL domestic abuse rates, an article published on the polling aggregator website FiveThirtyEight.com sheds light on a few interesting numbers and trends based on data from USA Today’s NFL Arrests Database, along with with data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics’Arrest Data Analysis Tool and reports on domestic violence. The data collected seems to come up with a few results, most prominent of which is that although NFL players have relatively low arrest rates compared to national averages, a big portion of these arrests, namely 55.4%, are linked to domestic violence. The data also shows that while the arrest rate for domestic violence among NFL players are low compared to the national average, on further analysis it seems to be quite high given the players’ high income level and non-existent poverty rate.
Enhancements to the NFL Domestic Violence Policy
In a letter issued to all NFL owners in August 2014, Goodell instated a list of enhancements to its personal conduct policy pertaining to domestic abuse and sexual assault. Goodell stated in his letter that “These steps are based on a clear, simple principle: domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances. That has been and remains our policy.”
These enhancements included:
- A first offense including assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involves physical force will elicit a minimum punishment of a 6-game suspension without pay – to be made more severe according to additional circumstances such as the use of a weapon or the presence of a child, among other factors. A second offense will lead to termination from the NFL.
- Providing training to human resources executives and club player engagement directors to make them better able to recognize domestic violence and sexual assault risk factors. Furthermore, at-risk individuals will be provided with the appropriate assistance and counseling. Refusal of assistance will be held against the NFL member in the event they commit any future acts of domestic abuse or sexual assault.
- The NFL LifeLine and NFL Total Wellness Programs will be better supported to make sure both potential aggressors and victims are aware of the resources available and their options for seeking confidential assistance.
- The NFL’s football programs at schools and universities will further develop components discussing domestic violence and sexual assault. Appropriate conflict resolution methods, respect for women, and maintaining healthy relationships will be at the core of these programs.
- NFL’s future public service work will include domestic violence and sexual assault awareness and prevention in its framework, using the help of related organizations as well as current and former players, coaches and NFL families who have suffered from this particular type of abuse.
Goodell also issued the following memorandum to all NFL personnel:
“Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They are never acceptable and have no place in the NFL under any circumstances.
Our Personal Conduct Policy has long made clear that domestic violence and sexual assault are unacceptable. We clearly must do a better job of addressing these incidents in the NFL. And we will. Earlier today, I sent NFL owners a letter that identified specific actions we will take to improve our response to domestic violence and sexual assault. Those actions include the following:
• All NFL Personnel will participate in new and enhanced educational programs on domestic violence and sexual assault. We will also increase our outreach to college and youth football programs.
• Families will receive detailed information about available services and resources, both through the club and independent of the club. These resources and services will be available to employees and their families on a confidential basis.
• Violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence and sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to enhanced discipline. A first offense will be subject to a suspension of six weeks without pay. Mitigating circumstances will be considered, and more severe discipline will be imposed if there are aggravating circumstances such as the presence or use of 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 league; an offender may petition for reinstatement after one year but there is no assurance that the petition will be granted. These disciplinary consequences apply to all NFL personnel.
If you believe that you or someone you know may be at risk of domestic violence or other misconduct, we strongly encourage you to seek assistance through your club’s director of player engagement, human resources department, the NFL LifeLine or an independent local domestic violence resource. Help is available and can prevent potentially tragic incidents.”
NFL Domestic Violence Controversy
It doesn’t seem that this year’s NFL domestic abuse controversy is going to cool down especially with recent statements made by Jerry Angelo, general manager of the Chicago Bears from 2001 to 2011 and NFL member for 30 years. In a recent interview with the USA Today Sports, Angelo claimed that hundreds of domestic abuse cases went unpunished in the NFL. He said his own approach to such cases was to ask “”OK, is everybody OK? Yeah. How are they doing? Good. And then we’d just move on. We’d move on.” According to USA Today Sports he added, “We knew it was wrong,… And I was part of that, but I didn’t stand alone”. His recent statements came after he was shocked by the Rice assault video that circled the Internet.
Having said this, Goodell is well on his way towards creating a completely revamped personal conduct policy addressing domestic abuse and sexual assault that should be ready before the Superbowl. Whether this will help with putting the nation-wide conversation to rest, is still to be seen.
Domestic violence experts, however, suggest that in order to alleviate the problem a complete policy-change is due. More focus should be placed on rehabilitating the abuser, as simply terminating them from the NFL and having them lose their jobs could make it harder for their abused partners or family members to come forward. Suspension, entering mandatory domestic violence programs, and taking part in the support of other struggling NFL members are all solutions that could work towards stopping this behavioral cycle from repeating itself.
Yet with all of these domestic abuse stories surfacing, probably now more than ever with the extensive reach of social media, a lot of questions are raised about why the NFL has waited until now to start addressing the issue more seriously. Yet since professional sports is a big business, and famous NFL players are huge money-earners in this business, trying to protect these players while maintaining integrity is a tricky balance to keep.
The Big Picture: What is an Abusive Relationship?
With domestic abuse on the rise in the past years, it becomes important to understand what an abusive relationship is. An abusive relationship is one which one partner tries to control the other using various forms of abuse that can range from physical to emotional. An abusive relationship can be so subtle that it almost feels natural after a while or can be outrageously upsetting and even life-threatening at times.
The Tell-Tale Signs of an Abusive Relationship
When it comes to abusive relationships, a few key behaviors are usually enough to identify them:
Abusive Relationship Sign: Jealousy and Possessiveness
Your partner needs to know where you are and what you’re doing all the time. You won’t hear the end of it if you forgot to return their call or didn’t give them an exact schedule for your day – they might even punish you by withholding money for example. They will also be very jealous if you spend time with friends or family.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Unrealistic Expectations
If you’re not the vision of perfection 24/7 then you’re a disappointment. While they’re allowed to make mistakes they will always hold you up to impossible standards and shoot you down for not living up to them.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Disregard for your Feelings
Your partner’s world revolves around themselves. Your feelings are merely a reflection of what is going on in their life. They might even blame you for feeling sad because it ruins their mood. If you feel like talking about your problems, they will probably launch into a monologue about how their life is infinitely more difficult.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Belittlement
Constant negative comparison to others, criticizing the way you look or behave in a demeaning way, having fun at your expense in front of others or in private- are all signs of abuse.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Blame
Whatever is wrong with their life is not their problem. It’s always someone else’s fault (usually yours) and if they can’t find someone to blame they blame and curse fate. An abuser never takes responsibility for their own actions or mistakes.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Threats
An abuser usually uses threats to get you to conform and behave like they want. Threats can be veiled and appear innocent “You know well that if you leave me no one will love you as much as I do”, they can try to elicit sympathy “I will probably kill myself if you leave me. I cannot bear life without you”, or they can be outright violent “I will break your leg if you leave me”. A threat is a threat no matter how it’s coated.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Mood Swings
One minute they’re chirpy, the next they’re furious and foaming at the mouth because you smiled the wrong way at the waiter.
Abusive Relationship Sign: Physical Violence
This doesn’t need explanation. Any form of physical or sexual violence, even if done once is a form of abuse. Even indirect forms of violence such as breaking a vase or throwing something at you in a heated moment is violence all the same.
- People in an abusive relationship usually stay for a number of reasons:
- They don’t have the required emotional experience and intelligence to identify abuse.
- They see abuse as a personality trait rather than a serious problem. So their violent abusive partner is viewed as hot-headed rather than abusive because the rest of the time they act lovingly, especially in front of other people.
- Fear of the unknown. Usually the abuser has a strong emotional hold on their partner, making it impossible for them to imagine leaving. Financial dependency also makes it more difficult for the victim to leave.
- Many victims believe it’s their fault for triggering abusive behavior in their partners.
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