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The Ray Rice domestic violence matter has shined a giant spotlight on an issue that has surfaced time and time again in the lives of professional athletes; namely, domestic and other forms of violence outside the field of play. This seems even more prevalent in sports that are particularly violent in nature. In other words, when you make violence and/or physical contact the essence of your profession (like in the NFL), how do you learn to turn it off in other parts of your life? Apparently, it is not so easy.

The NFL’s policy on domestic violence is archaic and reactionary rather than proactive and progressive. The NFL would have loved to sweep the Ray Rice incident under the rug. When it blew up in their face—the NFL (and Ray Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens) over-reacted in an effort to calm the outrage by unceremoniously cutting Rice from his team and issuing a draconian suspension. The suspension was recently overturned by an independent arbitrator in that the length unjustly punished Rice far beyond the scope of the justice system.

In truth, the NFL is much like Gladiators of ancient Rome and the “voluntary” and “permissive” violence it promotes on the field is the same violence that our culture is infatuated with as evidenced by the enormous TV ratings for NFL games. But the NFL has a duty to take effective measures to ensure that the athletes that are so violent on the field get the counseling and training they need to ensure this violence does not carry over to domestic life. This counseling should start even before an incident like Ray Rice’s breaks out (domestic abuse; fighting; bullying;, etc.). The NFL has a further duty to ensure that its athlete employees are good corporate citizens, promoting the type of values that the NFL should be promoting off the field of play that can be an example to its fans and society as a whole.

Simply stated, the NFL could have avoided all this by using an approach of clarity and transparency clearly outlined in a five step process that should ultimately be incorporated into the collective bargaining agreement:

Education—every sports league (through its teams) should institute a mandatory education policy about the dangers and consequences of domestic and other forms of violence. This more “violent” the sport, the more intensive the program should be.  The process should be audited to ensure compliance.

Suspension/fine—in proportion to the offense committed (after an internal investigation takes place with at least some minimum “due process” standards in place)

Counseling—must be administered by reputable and independent agencies (not by organizations on the NFL payroll, no matter how good their credentials).

Community Service— must be administered by reputable and independent agencies (not by organizations on the NFL payroll, no matter how good their credentials).

Zero tolerance— for repeat offenders

This openly stated policy by the NFL (education/fine/suspension/rehab/service/0 tolerance) would go a long way to send a message that the NFL demands its athletes absolutely refrain from domestic violence/ bullying etc. off the football field, and that such violence has absolutely no place in our society.

Published on December 9, 2014

Written by Leonard Armato