Let’s kick off with a brief overview of the hottest NFL scandal this season: Ravens running back Ray Rice being caught on video punching his fiancée Janay Palmer hard enough to knock her unconscious while they were arguing in an elevator. The league almost certainly had a copy of the police report from Feb. 15, when Rice was charged with assault against Palmer, “specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious,” according to the testimony. What makes it all more scandalous? The NFL refused to take serious action to punish Rice until pressured by the public after the video from the elevator was leaked in early September.
Now rewind before September.
“It was our understanding,” Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti said in an interview with ESPN, “that in the course of a physical altercation between the two of them, he slapped Janay with an open hand, and that she hit her head against the elevator rail or wall as she fell to the ground.”
So even without having seen the video of Rice slugging Palmer hard enough to knock her out, the NFL had evidence that Rice did physically abuse his fiancée.
Let’s draw attention to that: The NFL had evidence that Rice hit his fiancée.
Then, in March, an Atlantic County grand jury raised the charges against Rice from simple assault to third degree felony aggravated assault for purposely trying to cause significant bodily injury to Palmer with, and I quote the jury here, an “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
And yet that same month, the NFL stopped pursuing Rice’s case, although now Rice faced a minimum three-year prison sentence.
However, the NFL has been turning a blind eye to many domestic violence cases recently. Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings: indicted for lashing his four-year-old son with a switch. Greg Hardy, defensive end of the Carolina Panthers: arrested for assaulting his girlfriend (including but not limited to throwing her into a bathtub before slamming her onto a couch covered in guns and threatening to kill her). Jonathan Dwyer, Arizona Cardinals running back: accused of assaulting a 27-year-old woman and her 18-month-old child.
Rice was originally suspended for two games. Peterson was suspended for one. Hardy was banned from playing but is still being paid. Dwyer was removed from the team after a public outcry against the NFL’s mishandling of the previous domestic violence cases.
But domestic violence goes beyond the NFL. One woman in four has experienced sexual assault during her life in the U.S. alone. And in 2013, U.S. federal statistics recorded 360,820 cases of serious intimate partner violence.
“Women worldwide,” New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff wrote, “ages 15 to 44 are more likely to die or be maimed as a result of male violence than as a consequence of war, cancer, malaria, and traffic accidents combined.”
Domestic violence is not a problem restricted to the NFL; however, the NFL has a unique responsibility to uphold the value of human life because of its immense public presence. NFL players are celebrities, role models, and success stories. Their patterns of violence should not be overlooked. We need a zero tolerance policy surrounding domestic violence, particularly in sports, because we cannot teach children — or adults — that it is in any way acceptable to treat their partners disrespectfully or violently, no matter the situation or circumstance. The answer never is, and never should be, violence. That’s the reason that domestic violence and sexual assault are illegal.
They are crimes that should be punished accordingly. If the NFL sent a message of zero-tolerance surrounding domestic violence, other people will realize that it is ners with such blatant disregard.
Because according to a recent NBC poll, people aren’t getting or sending a message of zero-tolerance. Less than 10 percent of NFL fans and viewers have chosen to stop watching because of the recent scandals.
“I kind of look at it as, OK, they are human,” NFL fan Tara Bell said in an interview with NPR. “They make a mistake, but I will support my team.”
We need to stop viewing cases of domestic violence as “mistakes.” Because if 360,820 people make those same mistakes every year, then clearly we, as a nation, have not been learning from them.