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No More, Thanks to Ray Rice

November 19, 2014

The NFL’s horrendous fumble to only suspend football player, Ray Rice, for only two games, in their attempt to remedy Rice’s involvement in his domestic violence dispute, has publically magnified the need for social reform for domestic abuse nationwide.

The NFL has implemented new protocols after receiving public backlash for their internal handling of the Rice situation. This has put the NFL at the vanguard of much-needed reform. The NFL’s new policy, which goes into effect this month, is a standalone domestic violence and sexual abuse policy that creates a duty for both the league and every team. The league and every team will have their own Critical Response Teams, consisting of human resource directors, security officers, player engagement directors, clinicians and support services. The objective of the Critical Response Team is to provide resources and a safe environment for anyone involved in a domestic dispute. As for disciplinary actions, the NFL recently enacted a stricter policy consisting of a six game, no pay suspension for the first incident and a lifetime ban for the second incident. A second time offender can petition for reinstatement after the first year, but there is no guarantee on reinstatement. Internal discipline would be triggered by adjudication of a player’s case, such as a conviction or plea agreement. Sixteen NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence since 2012, which is more than any other major sports organization.

The NFL is the most watched sport in America; the number of fans viewing and following football on a regular basis puts them at the forefront to be the voice for change. The harsh criticism of their previous disciplinary actions, alongside the wide popularity among young men and adult males, forces the NFL to push for nationwide reform. Reform is not only about implementing new policies, but it is also
about spreading the word and teaching young men and women that domestic abuse is not and shout not be tolerated or ignored. The league’s popularity has led organizations, such as, to use the NFL’ and their players as a platform for change.

In 2006, pitcher Brett Myers was not disciplined after punching his wife in the face in public and in front of witnesses; he actually started the very next day. In 2005, outfielder Milton Bradley had three separate domestic violence issues where the police were called; no charges were ever filed and no team discipline was initiated. Ironically, Bradley was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award that season, which is given annually to the player that best exemplifies sportsmanship, community involvement and team contribution. In 2013, Bradley was charged on nine counts of spousal battery that led to a three-year sentence. Last July, former player and long time manger, Bobby Cox, who has a long list of domestic violence issues in his past, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. At no time did Selig intervene in any of these cases.

MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) contains rules addressing inappropriate or criminal behavior, but it does not address domestic violence on its own. And the current CBA lasts only through 2016. MLB, also known as America’s pastime, is an organization that prides itself on being part of the fabric of who we are as a nation. They “stand up to cancer”, swing pink bats on Mothers Day, and blue bats on Fathers Day. Perhaps, 2016 is too far down the road to ignore such pressing issues that are sure to ensue within the next two years.

Like the NFL and MLB, other top professional sports organizations are being prompted by the recent uproar to restructure their domestic violence policies. The NBA, like MLB, has always taken the passive approach. Over the last three years nine NBA players have been struck with domestic violence charges, and the league disciplined none of these players because their case was either dismissed or is currently pending. Not until last month has the league or any affiliate taken swift corrective action. NBA Commissioner, David Silver, has since said that the league will “take a fresh look” at its domestic violence procedures.

There is a need to restructure policies before athletes or employees corner these major sports organizations into poor decision- making positions. And these organizations must be the voice that spreads a message of reform. All of the major sports organizations have millions of fans; men, women and children of all ages watch, play, live and breathe sports. The opportunity that each league has to change how they address domestic violence is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s the opportunity to make a social change for the greater good of society and for future generations.