Since the year 2000, 85 out of 713 arrests of NFL players have been for domestic violence, according to USA Today.  And, in the last two years, over a dozen events involving NFL players have been associated with domestic violence. The responses from the NFL have been inconsistent in case examples such as the arrest of Ray McDonald, defensive for the San Francisco 49ers, and conviction of Greg Hardy, defensive end for the North Carolina Panthers. Both cases in domestic violence are still awaiting legal outcomes and despite evidence that domestic violence did occur, the NFL is awaiting legal disposition before taking action.

The case against Ray Rice, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, is another domestic violence instance drawing attention to the NFL. Apparently, the NFL did not think that there was sufficient evidence in the video of Ray Rice dragging his girlfriend out of the elevator while she was unconscious for the NFL, to exact a major penalty.  However, with the release of the video showing the famous running back punching his wife in the face and knocking her out cold, the NFL has finally suspended Ray Rice from the game indefinitely, despite not having the support of a legal disposition. Perhaps it was because the public now knows all that happened and advertising dollars were at stake. As recently as this week we again see the NFL in the news for another domestic violence incident involving one of the league’s players, police have said that the Arizona Cardinals running-back, Jonathan Dwyer, head-butted his wife after she refused his sexual advances, and subsequently broke her nose.                                                                          

With these cases being so similar in circumstance, three ideas quickly come to mind:

1) Each day in the United States, a total of 3 women die due to the actions of their partner or spouse.  Men in sports programs should not be exempt to punishment when it comes to this violence.

2) Aggressive sports make many people mega bucks. Therefore, aggression on and off the field is overlooked primarily because confronting it costs too much money.

3) There is ambivalence about women’s rights to not be harmed by their partners; especially if the men are celebrities. Let’s look at some history:

Jovan Belcher, former linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, killed his girlfriend and himself just two years ago. Floyd Mayweather, a professional boxer, was arrested in 2012 for domestic violence and recently even sent a supportive tweet to Ray Rice. These professional athletes are just two examples of many athletes who believe their acts of violence are above the law. 

In 2013, School officials in Steubenville, Ohio were arrested for covering up evidence in the case of two high-school football players who raped a female student. This leads one to believe that the school officials consider abuse of a female student by star football players was acceptable behavior that could be covered up. The idea that bullying, aggression, abuse, and disrespect is to be expected and tolerated in aggressive sports such as football or boxing is an abominable concept that must change. Everyone must participate in such change and must receive training in eliminating aggression by athletes when they leave the playing field.

While punishment dominates the discussion of the day, Violence Risk Reduction Plans can reduce the risk that someone will be violent toward a partner in the future. Those who are violent toward others have certain characteristics that make them susceptible to aggression when angry or frustrated. In particular, in an aggressive sport with multiple blows to the head, players may have head injuries that have a negative impact on their thinking, logic, impulsivity, and mood.

Whatever the source, athletes who display aggressive behaviors off the field, may need improvement in the following:

  • The cultural definition of what it is to be a man
  • Cultural attitudes that women are not important
  • Ideas that Domestic Violence is (according to Chris Brown & Rihanna) “Nobody’s Business”
  • Anger-management methods
  • Self-soothing techniques
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Interpersonal communication abilities
  • Behavior management practices
  • Thinking skills and logic
  • Respect for all

Programs to reduce the likelihood that these young men will act out aggressively in the future can be included in a Violence Risk Reduction Plan. Techniques might include:

  • Interpersonal or Relationship Therapy
  • Neurological Exams
  • Skill Building in the Areas of Interpersonal, Self-Soothing, and Problem-Solving Skills
  • Pledge of Non-Violence off the Field
  • Standards that are Clear
  • Holding Everyone Associated with the Sport Accountable to High Standards of Respecting Others On and Off the Field
  • Consequences for Misbehavior is Swift, Certain, and Fair
  • There is no need to take away a man’s job, Fulfillment, or Identity Forever; that will serve no one.  Once released from their positions, there should be a way to re-enter the sport after successful completion of therapy.  This should be done with much fanfare, since behavior change is quite an accomplishment.
  • Public Service and Educational Campaigns are Ongoing

The highly respected CBS sportscaster, James Brown, made an impassioned plea for our culture to face and solve the problem of domestic violence. Let’s support a culture of change to solve this problem. We need to institute a policy of Violence Risk Reduction Plans into the NFL system to reduce the risk for violence by players and coaches both on and off the field.

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