The NFL’s response to charges of domestic violence by players in recent years has shown us that things are not as simple as they may appear on the surface. The role the NFL can and should play in dealing with this issue is hotly debated.
What the Issues Are
James Knox, an attorney who specializes in domestic violence cases in California with Milligan, Beswick, Levine & Knox, LLP, discussed the issue on the law firm’s website recently. Knox brings up that domestic violence laws vary from state to state. Since the NFL is a national organization dealing with teams in 22 states, it is difficult for them to enforce a one-size-fits-all policy. Not surprisingly, the NFL hasn’t even tried to apply a standard response to situations. Instead they seem to be as arbitrary as the prosecutors that Knox mentions who address domestic violence when it is a popular topic of outrage and practically ignore it otherwise.
Because of so many high-profile cases in the last few years, the NFL has funneled money into No More, a corporate-sponsored branding campaign whose Super Bowl PSA was widely critiqued for failing to address prevention efforts. It simply isn’t enough to throw money at awareness campaigns that focus on the aftermath of violence, while doing nothing to stop players and fans from engaging in the behavior to begin with. The tendency to be reactive rather than proactive has been the hallmark of the NFL’s responses overall, and that is exactly what is wrong with the situation today.
What the Situation Is
As an employment issue, domestic violence lawyers in Sacramento might say the NFL needs to be thoughtful of the steps they take. Employers cannot discriminate against employees by disciplining them based on allegations or enact disparate discipline on different employees for the same or similar actions. For this reason alone, the NFL should tread lightly in getting involved in allegations that have no bearing on the ability of players to do their job, which is to play ball.
On the other hand, the NFL could encourage more meaningful dialogue around the issue of domestic violence and utilize their strong media presence to engage in prevention awareness campaigns. To do this, they should work with existing well-known organizations where the emphasis is on an appropriate message rather than selling a brand. Acknowledging that a quality campaign isn’t just about how much money they publicize having spent might redeem them in the eyes of fans, and even earn them more respect from the players themselves. At this point silence is no longer an option, but a proactive and hands-off approach is possible.
From an employer’s perspective, the NFL as an organization should also provide access to appropriate services that would help players address anger and relationship issues before they become violent. One critique of the NFL has been that although players are handsomely compensated financially, they are also overworked, traveling extensively and under constant performance stress, and are demanded to earn their keep through performance. While also engaging in a career that encourages a certain amount of aggressiveness, being under this type of stress doesn’t leave a lot of room for building healthy personal relationships.
Individual team franchises should continue to look into their own hiring policies and how they manage the players. Refusing to hire players with a past is not a fair move, but having expectations from them while employed, and enforcing those expectations across the board, would go a long way towards encouraging a larger culture change in the sport. At the end of the day standing back and letting the justice system do its job would be a wise course of action for the NFL and teams to take.