Taking a Stand against Domestic Violence in the NFL

By, Julia M. ’19

For the final project in the class, “Politics of Identity: An Examination of Race, Class, and Gender in the 21st Century,” each student was required to take a stand on an issue she feels passionate about. I chose to take action against domestic violence in the NFL.

Despite the many public cases of domestic assault that have been national headlines, both affiliated with the NFL and not, many fans of the league still do not know much about the prominence of the issue in the NFL. Becca L. ’19 said in regards to the issue that “it’s definitely a problem” but that she “really [doesn’t] know anything about it.” Similarly, Andie M. ’22 stated she also “[doesn’t] know anything about the topic.” Also, Lara S. ’20, pondered the “double standard” associated with public figures and domestic violence. She said, “there are other figures in the media that are domestic abusers that get a lot of public hate, but it’s ignored in the NFL.”

So why does it seem that domestic violence is so prominent in the NFL, yet its impacts seem to be disregarded by the NFL and their players? Year after year, increasing amounts of NFL players are added to the list of alleged domestic abusers. Since 2014, there have been approximately twenty-five cases of alleged domestic assault within the NFL (USA Today). Within the past few months, Kareem Hunt and Reuben Foster have had very public cases of their alleged domestic assaults; TMZ even released a video of Hunt shoving and kicking a woman in a hotel lobby. As a result of these actions, both players were placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, where they were disallowed from playing or practicing with their respective teams, but they still received pay.

After finding out about these and the plethora of other players’ cases, one could be left wondering why domestic violence continues to be a prominent issue within the NFL. Research shows that in some cases, when one dedicates his life to playing football, the aggressive tendencies of the sport can present themselves in regular everyday life; aggression can be an instinct (Bleacher Report). Therefore, it can be difficult for players to separate behaviors for football and those for personal relationships, and the two can intertwine.

In lieu of this research, one is naturally left wondering what exactly the NFL is doing to fight against domestic violence in the league. There is the NFL Players Association Commission on Violence Prevention, a committee of professionals that work together to lessen the aggressive and dangerous actions of some players in the league. Although this commission seems like a great addition to the NFL, last May, both experts on domestic violence on the commission, Professor Deborah Epstein and Susan Else, resigned. When addressing her resignation, Epstein explained that she refused to remain in “a body that exists in name only” (Washington Post). She attributed this description to the fact that over the course of two years since she submitted her study with potential courses of action, the commission met only three times (Washington Post).

The commission has made efforts to improve the issue of domestic violence, yet they have proven to be insufficient. First, their hiring of a director of wellness falls short due to her lack of expertise in the realm of domestic violence as well as her unrealistic responsibility to tend to the needs of 1,500 players. Second, their increased crisis management training was geared toward issues relating to drugs and alcohol rather than domestic violence. Last, their implemented increased access to marriage counseling can perpetuate a dangerous power dynamic in relationships that does not solve the issue of domestic violence (NPR).

The NFL must do more than these lackluster efforts at addressing the issue of domestic violence in their league. It is not enough to simply have a commission on the issue. Specific courses of action, perhaps a mandatory course that educates players, coaches, owners, and others affiliated with the league about domestic violence, are necessary in order for concrete change to be made. Especially in a time when violent acts against women are increasingly shared and supported, the best time is now to start taking action against domestic violence in the NFL.