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At The Intersection of Sports and Culture

Quick Thoughts On NFL’s New Domestic Violence Policy

Today, NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, dropped a lengthy letter in which he admitted that he messed up when he only gave Ray Rice a 2-game suspension for domestic violence and he outlined 6 new policies that the NFL will implement regarding domestic violence and sexual assault.

My quick thoughts:

  1. Everyone should read the entire letter before forming opinions about it.
  2. Good job, public and sports media who got really angry that Ray Rice only got a two-game suspension for beating his fiancee unconscious. The outcry following that punishment is most definitely the ONLY reason this letter exists today.
  3. 5 of those 6 policies are proactive. This is important. The 6th part – the punishment part – will get a lot of play and sports media will focus on it. But the first 5 policies are all about preventing violence before it happens, both internally within teams and externally within communities. Punishment will not deter this violence but rooting it out before it happens, that could.
  4. All the stuff about being proactive in an attempt to prevent violence (which is the bulk of the letter), FEMINISTS DID THAT. The NFL was listening to somebody when they wrote that letter and it wasn’t just DUDEZ.
  5. The punishment part is bad. These new, incredibly harsh penalties that could backfire and just cause people not to want to report knowing that the result could cost a player his career (people don’t report for much less). It’s hard to see this as a deterrent. [UPDATE: someone brought up that lax punishments are also deterrents for women reporting partners for domestic violence. That's true, too. Part of the problem with focusing on punishments is that no matter what they are, many victims feel fundamentally unsafe reporting due to possible retaliation and/or effect on their partner's life.]
  6. And as Dan Solomon texted me when we were discussing this, the fact that this remains only a punishment to an individual does not stop the horrible behavior we saw the Ravens exhibit in the face of Ray Rice’s case and his suspension (a full court press of rehab publicity, mainly, which shows no signs of slowing down). Dan wrote, “There’s no incentive for them not to be horrible in the future. In fact, there’s the opposite. They need to downplay and PR and spin away all of this to prevent a lifetime ban.”
  7. The NFLPA will hate the punishment part and we should expect them to fight it all the way. At the same time, they could have at least taken the time in their response to acknowledge how great the proactive parts of the letter are.
  8. I don’t trust the NFL. The proactive stuff is wonderful IF it’s implemented in a way that is careful, thorough, thoughtful, consistent, and constant. What has the NFL done to make us think it will do that, to make us think it will do anything unless it gets something out of it? *crickets*
  9. If the sports media chooses to mainly focus on the punishment part of all of this, I fear that this will overshadow the bulk of the letter, which is about all the things we need to do to prevent violence. It will also serve to allow people who just want to move on from all of this to say, “PROBLEM SOLVED!,” when, in fact, all that proactive stuff shows that there is no solving of a problem; this is a long-term, on-going process that takes constant care.
  10. If you feel dissatisfied at the punishment part of this (that you feel like any act of violence against another person should lead to immediate dismissal from the league), at least keep in mind that the punishment the NFL has laid out is much more harsh than how the legal system often handles these cases. There is so much wrong in this society when it comes to violence against women and it doesn’t start or end with the NFL.

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