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Domestic Violence and the NFL — Something Needs to Change

Dr. Michael A. Gleiber

Given the recent horrific events encircling the sports media world, I wanted to take a break from talking about spine health education. I’m going to use this week to speak out about issues unrelated to our Spine Blog; issues in society that need to be openly addressed immediately!

Recent events in the media have raised several questions about how the NFL treats players who have engaged in domestic violence. Domestic violence has been a major issue among NFL players, accounting for 48 percent of the arrests for violent crimes committed by NFL players. Yet, the punishment often doesn’t fit the crime. A recent domestic violence incident initially only resulted in a two-game suspension and a $58,000 fine. Players who were found to be using drugs and other unapproved substances this year on average were suspended for four games, with some being suspended for even longer. While substance abuse is a serious issue, is the NFL saying that domestic violence is somehow less serious? The punishments being handed down seem to suggest that.

Once word got out about the most recent domestic violence incident, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that all NFL players who were involved in domestic violence would receive a six-game suspension on the first offense, and a year-long suspension on the second offense. This would not apply to the player in question, although he was eventually cut from the team and suspended indefinitely once video evidence surfaced. Goodell acknowledged that the NFL had made a mistake in handing down such a light punishment, but it shouldn’t have taken a public outcry or video evidence to make the NFL change its mind. In many cases of domestic violence committed by players, the NFL had access to the police reports; that alone should have been enough to hand down the proper punishment.

Historically, the NFL has handled domestic violence incidents poorly. In the past, most players involved in domestic violence have only received a slap on the wrist, if any punishment at all, while less violent crimes have resulted much harsher punishments. It is extremely concerning that it took the release of a videotaped incidence of domestic violence to bring forth any change. A recent study shows that 45% of NFL fans are women. Sweeping domestic violence under the rug does a disservice to female fans, and the fact that change has only come about after a very public backlash makes it seem that the NFL only cares about the bottom line and not about the safety of women. We need to change this “good old boys club” mentality that is rampant in the NFL and stand up for the right thing.

Now that Roger Goodell has announced that domestic violence will be taken more seriously, the NFL and the individual teams need to stick to that policy and do the right thing. Hopefully the recent dismissal of a player involved in domestic violence will serve as a lesson to other players, and that kind of behavior will not be tolerated. Many children, and even young adults, look up to these football players as heroes and role models; we need to make it clear that domestic violence, and violence of any kind, for that matter, is not the behavior of a hero, but a villain.