New York Times Investigation Spotlights Cover-Up Culture In NFL

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The NFL players’ union has appealed Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson’s NFL suspension, calling it “unprecedented, arbitrary and unlawful.” Peterson told USA Today that he’s learned better ways of disciplining his children after entering a no-contest plea to reckless assault of a child.

Meanwhile, former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice expects word by Thanksgiving on his appeal of the NFL suspension he received for assaulting his wife in February.

While the NFL sorts out issues of crimes and punishment, Steve Eder, an investigative sports reporter for the New York Times, has written a two-part series on how NFL teams have handled domestic violence claims titled “Nowhere To Turn.”

Eder joined Bill Littlefield to discuss his findings.

BL: You describe a very cozy relationship between NFL teams and various law enforcement agencies. In some cases, local police or sheriff’s deputies are actually on the payroll of the NFL teams. How has that contributed to this issue?

There was a lot of involvement from the team in this couple's marriage when they were having problems.

Steve Eder, New York Times

Teams need security, sure. And so it wouldn't be surprising that they would go out and they would hire local law enforcement to serve in those capacities. The question is, is when it becomes something more. That's something that we looked at and I think which needs to be looked at — those relationships.

BL: Some teams also discouraged women from going to the police in the first place, sometimes assigning a team employee to be available day and night to defuse arguments, almost like an on-call marriage counselor. I assume this wasn't done with the woman’s safety in mind.

SE: You're referring to a case involving a Cincinnati Bengals player and his ex-wife. In that case, the ex-wife and later, [I] also spoke with the player, they explained that the message from the team was, "Keep it in house." The team has denied it, but you sort of see from there that there was a lot of involvement from the team in this couple's marriage when they were having problems. It describes a culture where distractions and things like that are a problem.

BL: You spoke with Brandie Underwood, who was married to former Green Bay Packers safety Brandon Underwood. She said the supportive community of Packers wives became significantly less supportive when the abuse in her relationship became public. What happened? And was peer pressure a common theme among the women you interviewed?

She felt a feeling of being really stuck. Who do you turn to? Who can you really trust? Who's going to give you advice for what's good for you?

BL: She was also the woman who got the call, after she had left her husband, from another woman, saying, "You're so strong. You're so brave. I wish I could do that too."

SE: Yeah, that's right. That's part of what was intriguing about what Brandie Underwood had to say. She described how very difficult it was to break away, the financial aspects of it, the cultural aspects of breaking away. But she's moved on. Three years down the road and she says she looks back and she wishes that she could sort of see the person that she is now and how much stronger she is now.

BL: Some people would say that things are changing in the league. NFL Executive VP of Football Operations Troy Vincent — whose mother was a domestic violence victim herself — helped to coordinate player involvement in a new anti-domestic violence ad campaign that runs during games on television.

The ads are moving. But after all you've learned about the culture that covers up domestic violence in the NFL, does the league’s involvement in this campaign feel sincere to you?

SE: Well, look: certainly there's a focus on this now. And the things that we've looked at, they are recent cases, but things have changed as it relates to this discussion since the Ray Rice case came to light a couple months back now. So, I think it's hard to sort of discuss the sincerity of it, but I think certainly you can say that the NFL is focused on it, and it's something that's become a front-burner issue, and a whole lot of discussion around it.

This segment aired on November 22, 2014.


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