As an advocate against domestic violence and a casual sports fan, I am frustrated with all the overwhelming information the media is posting about NFL athletes and their involvement with domestic violence. While I think the recent cases have brought awareness around the issue, I think the way the media and the NFL have handled these cases is incorrect. It should not take a TMZ video of a man beating his wife, or a special report that runs across the bottom of the screen on ESPN to make men aware of why domestic abuse is a controversy. We need to become more proactive in our society, not just make domestic violence prevention the “flavor of the week” in our water cooler discussions.
Most of the focus in these recent cases has revolved around the reputation of the organizations and has forgotten to consider the victim’s reputation as a consequence. The conversation should gravitate around how damaged the victims’ reputations are, not just how long the abuser’s suspension should be. The media exposure can and will exacerbate the guilt and isolation of the victim. If it was difficult for her to leave because she was feeling threatened, guilty or insecure, exposing their case has probably made it even more difficult for her to exercise her rights. I am not surprised that Ray Rice’s wife is standing by his side–where else does she have to go? What else can she do? The NFL has grouped husband and wife together and not allowed her to step out on her own. Does the NFL have a shelter for battered wives? Do they have a domestic violence program for their athletes…I think we all know the answer to those important questions. Of if they do have those venues, they are not being publicized.
In addition, the NFL has resolved to terminate the player/perpetrator’s contract and therefore, his pay. The lack of a weekly paycheck will have direct and indirect consequences to his family and the victim. One of the reasons victims also stay with their abuser is because they depend on their abuser financially and are unable to support themselves. By not having an income the abuser might fall into a state of depression or anxiety which might lead him to be abusive towards the victim again. Do you see the cycle?
Again, neither the sports associations nor the media think about how exposing these cases can affect the victim. I think that proactive strategies by the NFL would be more beneficial. During their rookie season, all NFL players should have domestic violence, anger management or stress management counseling and support to ensure a path to prevention, not reaction. If domestic violence occurs, the NFL could offer the abuser counseling to deal with anger management/anxiety/depression and the victim counseling to empower her and to increase her self-esteem. Lastly, a zero tolerance policy could clearly state that the NFL is against domestic violence. One strike and you are out. I know–a baseball metaphor for a football issue, but it fits.