The National Football League (NFL) is once again under fire for its handling of a domestic violence case. Josh Brown, a kicker for the New York Giants, openly admitted to both physically and emotionally abusing his wife more than two dozen times. The NFL suspended him one game last year, but has since faced criticism by the public for the lenient sentence. Brown’s sentencing has opened up a greater discussion about how the NFL deals with domestic violence cases. As consumers and participants of sports culture, Occidental students and faculty weigh in on the NFL’s continuous domestic violence issues, with differing opinions about where the responsibility lies.
Dr. Melinda Houston, professor of kinesiology and certified mental training consultant, feels as though there is an issue of domestic violence in the NFL, but that as a society we have a responsibility toward this issue as well. Houston has worked with hundreds of athletes throughout her career and understands the complexities of sports culture. She has also examined the way that sports reflect the values of American society.
“While the NFL has a responsibility, I would argue that our society shares in that responsibility,” Houston said via email. “We want the teams that we support to win, often at any cost, and if the most successful athletes are engaging in inappropriate or even illegal behavior, we may not support that behavior, but we don’t like the result of not having that athlete play for our team.”
While Dr. Houston’s comments reflect the crucial role that consumers have in facilitating domestic violence in the NFL, league executives have recognized their responsibility in stopping this pattern. Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, feels that athletes, coaches and other members of the organization need to be held to a higher standard than those not in the public eye.
“It is not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime,” Goodell said. “Instead, as an employee of the NFL or a member of a club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful.”
This standard needs to be upheld more strongly than it has been, according to Houston.
“The NFL publicly stated that they were going to give harsher punishments in domestic abuse cases after the Ray Rice case a couple years ago, so they should honor this commitment,” Houston said.
Although Goodell has repeatedly reaffirmed this stance, the public has scrutinized his lack of action. Since the Ray Rice incident, the NFL has beencriticized by media outlets for its handling of domestic violence issues.
Rebecca Reese, a senior Biochemistry and Spanish major and Program Assistant for Project SAFE, feels as though confronting the issue of domestic violence is not a priority in the NFL despite its claims. Rebecca’s experience as a lacrosse player and Project SAFE program assistant has helped her to understand the influential voice that athletes can — and should — use to facilitate change.
“Any reasonable person can see that they [NFL] are prioritizing football over the safety and health of the community.” Reese said. “Their words are meaningless when they are not backed up by clear, irrefutable action. For an organization like the NFL to get so much media attention, and to not use their power as a platform to combat this, is irresponsible and is doing a disservice to the public.”
Doug Semones, head coach of the Occidental football team, feels that the NFL has recognized the issue at large, and has a policy in place to prevent violence. Semones, who has coached at every level from pop warner to professional football, understands the importance of educating his players on domestic and sexual violence. Last year, the Occidental football team went through a Project SAFE presentation on these issues.
“There is an awareness, no question. There is awareness and a policy and education going on,” Semones said. “Once they [NFL] realized the situation, then they suspended him [Josh Brown] and then the Giants eventually cut him. I think the NFL stepped up and did what they had to do and the guy has been removed from the league.”
These diverse responses to domestic violence in the NFL within Occidental’s community present an opportunity for further conversation. Though each stakeholder holds differing perspectives, the responses of local experts and relevant individuals offer insight on the inner workings of the NFL’s policy-making. These reactions hold even more weight as public opinion continues to put pressure on the NFL to find a meaningful solution to its domestic violence crisis.