NFL is too weak on domestic violence
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and the NFL is flooded with a lot of pink, from cleats to towels to gloves to the cheerleaders’ pom poms. Even the breast cancer ribbon is painted on the field underneath the NFL logo. As the daughter of a breast cancer survivor, these are all things that I like to see. Breast cancer awareness is something that my family and I take seriously. It’s something that I advocate for and support whenever I can, whether it’s something small like the pink ribbon on the side of my high school class ring or something big like attending the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Costa Mesa every year since first grade when my mom was diagnosed. For the NFL, this is a great cause to support. One in eight women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. In the United States, the death rate for breast cancer is higher than any other cancer except for lung cancer, and it’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women besides skin cancer. But, beneath the pink infusion and breast cancer awareness campaigns coming from the NFL, there’s another problem that lies beneath: domestic violence. October is also domestic violence awareness month. One in three women will have suffered some form of physical violence from their partner in their lifetime. Yet, there is no infusion of purple — the color of Domestic Violence Awareness month — anywhere for the NFL. Maybe they see it as a good thing; purple is an easy enough color to hide. It’s dark like the shadows where the NFL likes to brush off reports of domestic assault committed by their players. I’m sure no one has forgotten the blatant mishandling of the Ray Rice case by the NFL. Rice was originally suspended for two games and then he was indefinitely suspended following public outcry over his limited suspension. Commissioner Roger Goodell then changed the suspension to six games for players that committed assault on their spouse or partner. I was fortunate enough to get to read the court documents surrounding Rice’s case for my pre-law writing class. Even with a basic understanding of the law early on in the semester, it was easy to see the inconsistencies and lack of organization from Goodell and others from the NFL that allowed for Rice to overturn his suspension. The league’s failure to consistently discipline its players played a role in Rice’s decision being overturned. The issue was whether or not Rice misled Goodell in the original disciplinary hearings. The notes taken during the meetings served as primary evidence in the appeals process. Notes by Goodell and others from the NFL were not very detailed and they didn’t contain any direct quotes. On the other hand, the NFL Player’s Association’s attorney, there on behalf of Rice, had detailed notes with verbatim quotes from Rice. Because of the poor note-taking and lack of organization and control from the NFL, Rice’s suspension was overturned. So, Rice was allowed to return to play in the NFL — though no team has signed him — and Goodell was left with his new policy of a six-game suspension for players that committed domestic violence. Knowing that the rule has been changed, one would assume that any NFL player found of committed domestic violence would be suspended for six games, right? Wrong. Enter Josh Brown. The Giants kicker was suspended for one game in August for violating the NFL’s player conduct policy, a policy that can fluctuate. It can be adjusted according to what the NFL refers to as mitigating circumstances, which can shorten the suspension. Merely three out of 10 players who could’ve been handed the full six-game suspension since Goodell changed the policy have actually received the full suspension. Usually because of mitigating circumstances, the suspensions are reduced. Last week, Brown’s letters, emails and a journal — evidence from a May 2015 arrest — were released in which Brown admitted to assaulting his wife. After this information was made known, Brown was put on the commissioner’s “exempt list,” meaning he cannot attend Giants practices or games, but can attend Giants meetings and workouts. He’s also continuing to get paid by the Giants despite not being included on the 53-man roster. It’s not clear if New York was aware of the evidence that Brown admitted domestic violence, but the Giants said that they knew about abuse when he signed a two-year $4 million contract last April. Goodell’s defense for the NFL’s actions so far with Brown is nothing new. He first said that it’s “difficult for them to understand” the complexities, and that it’s all “a lot deeper and a lot more complicated than it appears.”As the mess with Brown continued to develop and more incriminating information was released, Goodell defended the NFL’s one-game suspension because when they asked law enforcement for more information, it wasn’t released to them and they “weren’t able to get access to it.” For a league with as much power as influence as the NFL, this seems like a faulty excuse. It sounds all too similar to the NFL claiming they weren’t able to get the elevator video footage of Rice, while TMZ was able to get its hands on it. Goodell’s inconsistency and weak stance on domestic violence and players’ punishment are part of the reason Greg Hardy, who was convicted for domestic violence against his former girlfriend, had his original suspension of 10 games reduced to four games. This isn’t just a Goodell or NFL front office problem; it runs league-wide. A number of teams have been criticized for drafting or resigning players who have been involved in disputes or misdemeanor charges of domestic violence. “We are looking forward to the start of the season and having Greg be a part of the team,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said after Hardy’s suspension was reduced.In short, the NFL has a problem on its hands. It’s been a problem for a number of years now. The inconsistencies and lack of organization for a league that’s so powerful and well-known throughout the United States should really have better measures in place for dealing with their players. Instead, it seems Goodell is more worried about keeping video highlights and GIFs of plays off of social media (even official team accounts) because he’s worried that it’s affecting television ratings. Goodell’s policy change has yet to produce substantive results; therefore, it could be argued that the policy was just the result of public outcry against the league’s decisions. It can be said that the policy was never enacted to actually produce change, just created to appease the public and not actually change how the NFL approaches or handles domestic violence with its players. If the NFL doesn’t get its problems under control, leadership changes need to be made. It won’t matter if every October athletes don pink accessories promoting breast cancer awareness because the league, through its policies and actions of the commissioner, doesn’t actually care about or respect the well-being of women.Jodee Storm Sullivan is a junior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. Her column, “The Storm Report,” runs Tuesdays.