Domestic Violence and the NFL

Recently the NFL was criticized for its handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence against his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer. Rice punched Ms. Palmer and then appeared to drag her limp body from an elevator at an Atlantic City hotel in February. For his actions he was suspended two games and fined. In mid-July, Greg Hardy was charged with two counts of domestic assault. The accuser testified that she was assaulted by Hardy at his apartment after a night of drinking. In addition, she said Hardy threatened to kill her while putting his hands around her neck. Of the 16 player suspensions handed out by the NFL this year alone, only one player’s suspension was officially related to a domestic violence charge: Ray Rice.

The other fifteen suspensions amount to an average of 5.1 games per player, with two-time or more offenders suspended the full 16-game season. Justin Blackmon of the Jacksonville Jaguars was suspended indefinitely in November after repeated substance abuse violations and was just arrested for possession of marijuana July 23rd in Edmond, Oklahoma. Wesley Saunders. Von Miller, Kellen Winslow, Walter Thurmond are all included in the list of 35 suspensions related to substance abuse or performance–enhancing drugs (PEDs) in 2013, with violators receiving on average of a 4.6 game suspension.

I know as well as anyone, there are times disagreements occur in relationships. There are times shouting matches made me want to pull out what little hair I do have left. Yet with any argument in any relationship in the past, at no point did I ever raise a fist or threaten a female. At no point was it even a thought or conscious action to restrain myself. It just was not and is not in me. If I learned anything from past failed relationships it is this: patience and everything happens for a reason.

The problem with the NFL’s slap on the wrist and the handling of Ray Rice has been addressed in numerous articles. The imbalance between the NFL’s reaction toward domestic violence versus marijuana, a substance that is rapidly going the way of the prohibition era, has also been addressed. The greater problem is not Stephen A. Smith’s comments, although this is an issue, nor is the multitude of sports commentators exercising their First Amendment rights. Rather, the root problem lies with the individuals assaulting these women in the first place and ever thinking those actions are even remotely normal or acceptable. 

My father taught me how to treat women with more than the words he said. His actions in the 47 years he has been married to my mother and the many years he raised my sisters reflected love, not violence. Remember the after school public service announcement from the late 80’s with the dad finding his son’s stash of pot and he confronts him yelling, “Who taught you how to do this stuff?” The son dramatically replies with, “You! I learned it from watching you!” Meanwhile, the music plays and the narrator provides insight on the impact of parents’ actions on their kids. Well, we do learn a lot from watching our parents and I learned a lot from watching mine. My dad was a career Army officer. He is a father, a husband, and a gentleman. He is a dad and a friend, a disciplinarian and a confidant. I learned from my father how to be a man and from him, my mom and my sisters, I learned how to treat women.

In all the articles I have read about the NFL’s domestic violence issues, one question remains: Where is the father figure in these NFL and college players’ lives? Coaches often have to step in and fill that role, I get it. In most cases, they do an amazing job. The problem is, training a young man how to treat a woman with dignity and respect begins much earlier than the college years.

I found out the story of Ray Rice’s birth father and adopted father by reading on the Raven’s now ironically titled, “Baltimore Beatdown” website. His life growing up was no joke and my heart goes out to him for what he overcame to get to this point. However, it is no excuse for what he did to his girlfriend, now wife. An individual’s upbringing can only account for so much of our story moving forward. There comes a certain point where we choose our own path and must take accountability of our own actions as adults. Ray Rice and the NFL’s domestic abuse problem is a chronic issue with the heart and adults acting out what they have seen growing up. The fault lies partially with the players and partially with their absent or negligent fathers. Single mothers do a phenomenal job playing both roles and in many cases, provide amazing success stories. However, that is not always the case.

This is also a problem with ongoing education at the NCAA and NFL levels and grown men taking accountability of their actions and learning the difference between right and wrong. The NCAA and NFL can do more to combat violence against women and it begins freshman year of college. Jane McManus of ESPN provides some excellent insight on the NFL’s domestic violence problem and some possible solutions. The NFL would do well to listen to her recommendations.

The Army requires quarterly training for its members to ensure we are well aware of what is right and what is wrong, what is accepted and what is not in the realm of domestic violence and domestic assault. As a Soldier, if you are charged with domestic assault and found guilty, your career is over. Sure, we have a few of our own bad cases as anyone does. But this zero tolerance policy is good enough to produce the finest military fighting force in the world. And as military members representing a greater cause, there is no room for error in matters of domestic assault and violence. The NFL had the opportunity to make a huge statement with the Ray Rice case with a similar zero tolerance policy for his documented case of domestic violence and failed miserably.

Players and coaches at all levels frequently refer to the game of football as a battle or a war. The NFL and its players need to take another page from the real war-fighters and learn how to treat women with dignity and respect.


@mcwingate /

The views presented are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of DoD or its Components.


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