Although domestic violence isn’t a new problem, the National Football League has certainly brought the issue to the forefront. Recent video footage of Ray Rice knocking out his wife and dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator in Atlantic City has sparked discussion and outrage. The NFL’s handling of this case and others like it shows insensitivity to the larger issue of domestic abuse.
The numbers of domestic violence cases in the NFL is unarguably concerning, but with the national statistic reaching a shocking 1 in every 4 women as being products of abuse, it’s time the issue receives a call-to-action.
A History of Abuse in the NFL
Since 2006, there have been over 50 domestic violence cases pursued against NFL players, including a case of murder. Three trends emerged from the disciplinary action taken against the accused: a brief suspension, no suspension at all, and for the less talented athletes, a permanent release and no re-signing.
It is often difficult to actually prosecute someone with a domestic violence charge because without hard evidence of physical abuse, the incident is considered a “he said, she said” argument. In the Rice case, the assault was caught on tape, causing a pubic outrage.
Commissioner Roger Goodell originally gave Rice a two game suspension as a punishment for the crime. Two games. In the past, Goodell has issued longer suspensions for pot smoking, DUIs, illegal tattoos, and even a case of a player accidentally eating a protein bar thought to be on the NFL’s approved list.
After the video of Rice went viral, Goodell received harsh criticism toward his leniency in handling the misconduct. Goodell then publicly apologized and changed Rice’s punishment to an indefinite suspension.
Rice and his wife, Janay, addressed the media following the wildfire spread of the video. She apologized for her role in the incident and he apologized to his bosses. What Rice neglected to do, however, was apologize to Janay, sending a nauseating, unacceptable message to the public and perpetuating the culture of victim blaming.
How Bad Is Domestic Violence?
According to the National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, 20 people are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner every minute in the United States. And relationship abuse doesn’t discriminate. It affects people of all races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations.
It’s also important to highlight the fact that relationship abuse doesn’t necessarily mean the victim will have bruises, scratches or a black eye signifying a problem. Some of the worst abuse can be purely mental, in turn causing the victim to feel unworthy and dependent on the abuser. With low self-esteem, it’s even more difficult for the victim to move toward independence and restore their feelings of self worth.
So why do victims continue to stay in abusive relationships?
Randi Bregman, the Executive Director of Vera House, a domestic and sexual violence service agency, tells MiLLENNiAL, “I find it overwhelming that we ask why someone stays instead of asking why a person would hit, hurt and humiliate someone they’re supposed to love and care about.” She says that even the question blames the victim in a sense. Typically, victims fear escalated violence or that somebody they love will be seriously hurt if they leave the abuser.
Randi also highlights how in many cases the victim still loves and cares about the abuser. “Many times what we learn from those that we serve is that they want the relationship to continue with all the good parts,” she says. “They just want the abuse to end.”
To overcome the problem of domestic violence, Randi suggests, “some of our challenges as a community going forward is to focus on how to create a culture that no longer tolerates abuse.” This circles back to the issue of such lenient handling of domestic violence cases in the NFL. However, it’s not just about stopping perpetrators in the NFL, but in homes and communities at large.
“I think it’s important that anybody experiencing abuse knows they’re not alone and it’s not their fault,” Randi stresses. Victims deserve to have the full support of their loved ones as well as support from the countless resources, both local and national, that will lead them to a safe, healthy recovery.
One of the many organizations that victims of abuse can turn to is the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Trained advocates are available 24/7 at no cost, and victims can choose to keep their anonymity. A list of national and state resources for battered victims can also be accessed on their website.
It’s time to acknowledge that domestic violence has become much too common. We don’t hear about it often, yet a whopping 25% of women in this country live with it daily. Abuse is not something to be taken lightly by saying it happens all the time. Everybody deserves a healthy, loving relationship, and when it goes painfully wrong, they deserve the opportunity for justice.