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Foul play: domestic abuse and the NFL

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Written by Matt Niksa 

Every minute, nearly 20 people in the U.S. become victims of domestic violence by an intimate partner according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV. In total, more than 10 million Americans experience some form of domestic abuse every year, and yet, influential national organizations have shown that they do not know how to deal with domestic abusers.

The incompetence shown when handling domestic violence in the the National Football League (NFL) has angered fans and pundits alike. The fact of the matter is that the NFL does not know how to punish or control domestic violence on a consistent basis. Seven NFL players have been arrested under charges for domestic violence this year and the league has fostered a culture that not only can’t control domestic violence, but also allows it to thrive.

Out of all of the players arrested for domestic abuse this year, the Ray Rice scandal was arguably the most egregiously handled. The eight-month saga began on Feb. 15, 2014 when Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice was arrested on assault charges of his fiancée Janay Palmer. According to Rice’s attorney, the event was a “minor physical altercation.”

The assault turned out to be anything but minor. On Feb. 19, released a video allegedly showing Ray Rice dragging his fiancée by her shoulders out of an elevator. Rice spoke at a discipline hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on June 16, where he told him his account of what happened in that elevator on Feb. 15. Rice was suspended for two games by Goodell on July 24. In response, the majority of NFL fans lambasted Goodell, saying that the NFL commissioner had not set an example to other athletes over the consequences of domestic violence.

The low point of the entire Ray Rice tragedy occurred on Sept. 8, 2014. when another video surfaced on, showing Rice punching and knocking out Palmer. The Ravens and the NFL, according to multiple sources, had not seen the video until it was released. Hours after the release of the video, Rice was released by the Ravens and was suspended indefinitely by the NFL. Goodell said that the reason he suspended Rice was because Rice’s description of the incedent of abuse differed from that shown in the video. However, according to an ESPN report and Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Rice was honest at the discipline hearing. The world may never know who was telling the truth at that hearing, but the entire saga as well as the suspensions of NFL players Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, and star running back Adrian Peterson have more than tarnished the league’s reputation.

There are many factors as to why the NFL so poorly managed the Ray Rice case, but I believe the outdated aspects of the league’s domestic abuse policy are the main reason why domestic violence remains a huge problem for the NFL. One big flaw is that teams have the sole power to deactivate players charged with domestic abuse as long as the players are not on Goodell’s exempt list. However, teams have a conflict of interest because if a team’s best player is charged with domestic abuse, it could create conflict between the team’s fanbase and the team’s integrity. Fans of NFL teams expect to see their best players on the field on Sundays and if a team’s best player is sidelined because of a domestic abuse scandal, then fan attendance at games will consequently drop as well. Teams do not want to lose revenue because of a suspended player, but they also do not want to send the message that domestic abuse goes unpunished. It puts the teams in an awkward situation that they should not be involved in in the first place.

Another outdated aspect in the NFL’s domestic abuse policy is the exempt list itself. Goodell’s main role as commissioner is that he manages business strategy and disciplinary action in the NFL. The exempt list is one way he disciplines players. However, while the list allows the commissioner to temporarily exempt players from the active roster, it still allows the players to be paid as they deal with legal issues. Players should not be paid by teams that have no involvement and are not responsible for these players’ domestic abuse charges. If the player is cleared of his domestic abuse charges, then he should be reimbursed with a check that covers the salary that he lost.

The NFL is taking the right steps by creating a more modern domestic abuse policy with a new rule. Players who violate the league’s domestic abuse policy will be suspended six games without pay, and second-time offenders may be subject to lifetime bans.

The second step the NFL should take to help police domestic abuse is to create seminars before every season to teach the consequences of domestic abuse. The seminars should only apply to new or relatively new players in the league. If players are educated on the effects of domestic abuse then I am confident that the rate of domestic violence in the NFL (55.4 percent relative arrest rate-highest arrest rate for all crimes committed by players) will drastically decrease.

Finally, the NFL should work with the NCADV to create advertisements to spread awareness and teach all audiences the importance of creating a domestic abuse-free society. Just a 30-second advertisement showing NFL role models will educate children and adults on the importance of ending domestic abuse. The NFL has a large audience at its disposal and advertising the issue may decrease the national rate of domestic abuse.

Although the NFL’s reputation has suffered over the last four months, if they invest time and money to create stricter domestic violence policies and promoting a campaign to end domestic abuse, the perception of the league will benefit positively. The NFL should be the paragon of how it assesses domestic abuse. Once the NFL creates a strong template to combat domestic abuse, other major corporations will follow suit and the nation as a whole will become more vigilant in its quest to end domestic abuse.

Domestic Abuse By The Statistics

—Statistics courtesy of,, and  

1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence by their intimate partner.

53{74e2084e47f46e06e62dbba283cef78e0e039417a59d0bb63ac31908f44b1eca} of intimate partner violence incidents are reported to police in 2012.

20 people per minute are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner in the U.S.

70{74e2084e47f46e06e62dbba283cef78e0e039417a59d0bb63ac31908f44b1eca} of U.S. workplaces have no formal policy that address domestic abuse.

85 out of the 713 NFL arrests have been for domestic violence since 2000

Message From football Coach Hirano 

Q: As a football coach, what’s your opinion on how the NFL has handled the domestic abuse scandal?

A: There are two sides to every story, but when you’re an adult, I feel you should know right and wrong. Management should handle these situations [domestic abuse] the right way. When it’s your career on the line, these cases can become very intense. When you look at the numbers [of people arrested this year] it is higher than usual but this is a problem bigger than society. And we’re exposing domestic abuse to kids through celebrities. I feel it’s a huge problem.

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Foul play: domestic abuse and the NFL