Getting It Right? Part 2: Keep Trying
Every day seems to bring a new chapter in the National Football League's drama of discovering the urgency of addressing domestic violence in its ranks. Team sports are about statistics. Football is about yards gained/lost, touchdowns scored, passes completed, third downs converted, etc. Here’s a statistic: conservatively speaking, 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence at some time in her life.
Every day seems to bring a new chapter in the National Football League's drama of discovering the urgency of addressing domestic violence in its ranks. Team sports are about statistics. Football is about yards gained/lost, touchdowns scored, passes completed, third downs converted, etc. Here’s a statistic: conservatively speaking, 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence at some time in her life. We have heard in the past two weeks from a half dozen or so women who have disclosed abuse by their partners who are NFL players. I am worried for victims in the cases in which charges were never filed or were dropped, or who have not left their abusers. ; This is just one of the reasons it is so important that the NFL keep trying until they do get this right.
Firing Commissioner Roger Goodell is the easy way out. A lot of people are focusing their anger and frustration on him, making him the potential scapegoat here. But I’m not convinced his removal is the answer. While I was as appalled as everyone else with his initial response to the first Ray Rice video, he at least came out immediately and said he got it wrong and was committed to getting it right. This is no small thing from an institution like the NFL. I can’t recall any Bishops who acknowledged their mishandling so quickly and pledged to try harder; mea culpas have been few and far between.
What’s really exciting about this moment in our cultural history is that domestic violence and child abuse are on the front burner and have outlasted the news cycle. This is thanks in no small part to the voices of women in the sports media. There is now a critical mass of women sports reporters who, although still largely marginal in the sports world, have a platform and they are using it. [See ESPN reporter Hannah Storm's commentary on "What Exactly Does the NFL Stand For" for a fine example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ucthzgpEgM&feature=youtu.be]
Now is the time for concerted public pressure and hard work in the trenches to implement new policies and practices that might actually help to shift our cultural norms from passive acceptance of domestic violence to active intolerance. It’s already happening in Canada. Due to Jackson Katz’s tireless work to address violence against women among athletes, the Ending Violence Association of British Columbia has partnered with the BC Lions of the Canadian Football League to promote a campaign called “Be More Than a Bystander.” There are other sports campaigns that address domestic violence, such as the Refuse to Abuse Campaign with the Seattle Mariners. This is doable.
In regard to changes in policy, Goodell’s initial efforts are a worthwhile beginning. He’s bringing in actual experts from the domestic violence field to advise. But undoubtedly he still is a deer caught in the headlights of this current crisis. The real question is whether he can actually change the course of this ship he captains. This is no small assignment. And the bottom line is that the bottom line is definitely in play. The good news is that major corporate sponsors are falling away left and right from individual players and from the league. This is how social change finally happens.
One more note about what policies I think should be enacted regarding players’ misconduct off the field. With the particular well-being of players’ families in mind, I support a two-strikes-and-you-are-out policy. This will allow for a player who abuses his partner or child to be suspended from play but not fired, which means that he can continue to support his family while in a court ordered intervention program. If he doesn’t utilize the program to get his life together and continues the abuse, he’s done in the NFL. This makes two things possible: first, his partner might be more willing and able to come forward if she knows he won’t immediately lose his job. Second, and this comes from my occasionally optimistic side, he remains in the organization and hopefully finds support from fellow players who can bring peer pressure to remind him that his manhood and his livelihood are both dependent on him letting go of his need to coerce and control women and children.
Finally as we head into October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I urge every faith leader to use this opportunity to talk about domestic violence from the pulpit. The silence in our faith communities is even louder than the silence in the NFL. In 2014, there is no excuse for this.