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Domestic Violence: A Problem In The NFL — And Beyond

Ray McDonald was recently arrested on domestic violence allegations, days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL teams detailing harsher punishments for domestic abuse. (NFL via Getty Images)MoreCloseclosemore
Ray McDonald was recently arrested on domestic violence allegations, days after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL teams detailing harsher punishments for domestic abuse. (NFL via Getty Images)

The NFL has a violence-against-women problem.

If it didn't have such a problem, there would be no need for coaches of some teams — the San Francisco 49ers, for example — to tell their players that although they can forgive lots of criminal behavior, they can't abide somebody who beats up a woman.

If it didn't have such a problem, the commissioner wouldn't have had to acknowledge that he'd "gotten it wrong" when he suspended for two games a player who'd dragged an unconscious woman out of an elevator by her hair. He wouldn't have had to increase the length of suspensions for players employing violence against women in the future. I wonder if he's wondering today about the efficacy of that decision, given that less than a week after he announced his new policy, another player was arrested for allegedly abusing another woman.

So the NFL has a violence-against-women problem and addressing it will certainly require more than stiffer penalties, appropriate as they may be, whether you regard them as public relations moves or sincere expressions of concern.

The NFL's violence against women problem is front and center because the football players who commit the violence are public figures. Some of them have been celebrated as role models. When they hit women or put their hands on women's throats or threaten women with guns, they make the news.

But even in the week during which the pro football season begins, to limit the discussion of violence against women to the violence committed by NFL players would be foolish. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, well over a million women in the U.S. are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year. Boys who witness such violence against their mothers are more likely to commit the same crime. Again, according to the Coalition Against Domestic Violence, witnessing such incidents is "the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next."

Which brings us back to the NFL. What the players do is news. Everybody witnesses it, or at least every fan, and lots of little and not-so-little boys are football fans. That's something the commissioner might consider the next time he revises his disciplinary code to do his part in addressing the shame that reaches far beyond the realm over which he presides.

This segment aired on September 3, 2014. The audio for this segment is not available.

Bill Littlefield Twitter Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield has been the host of Only A Game since the program began in 1993.

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