When Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for only two games for beating his fiancée (now wife), it became a dramatic public example of the lack of accountability for professional athletes. Only when a video came out showing Rice punching his fiancée so hard it knocked her unconscious, and then dragging her limp body from the casino elevator, did the NFL take further action. As new incidents of domestic violence and child abuse come out, many are calling for Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign or lose his job.
But this epidemic is about so much more than Goodell, whose lack of leadership is typical in professional sports. It's about more than one team, one league, or sports in general.
Studies show that one in four American women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. And when you add rape and stalking, we're talking about one in every three women. Athletes -- at the professional and college levels -- have been engaging in these violent crimes against women for a long time and regularly get away with it -- we all know that. The National Football League, in particular, has taken little or no action against violence against women by its players.
This sends a very clear message to children in this country, boys in particular, who aspire to be athletes, or those who simply see these athletes as role models. The time has come to flip that message and make it one of zero tolerance.
Any professional athlete who assaults a woman should be immediately suspended -- no sports, no contract, no money, and banished from the team and its games. And we should impose similar rules for college and high school football and every other sport. The message of zero tolerance for violence against women -- with a focus on athletes -- must be made absolutely clear. By watching what happens to the professional athletes they often look up to, younger athletes will learn that such behavior is totally unacceptable and will not be tolerated anymore. They must learn by watching.
As Christians, we believe in grace, mercy, forgiveness, and second chances. We believe in repentance and redemption. And men who assault women should be called to repentance by the faith community and helped to find redemption for their sins by changing their attitudes, behavior, and lives -- and by offering community service that undermines violence against women. However, repentance and redemption do not come in lieu of punishment for their actions.
Women and men are created in the image of God with equal value. People of faith must proclaim this message -- to NFL Commissioner Goodell and all those in positions of power, including in our own churches. Violence against women -- domestic violence in any form -- is unacceptable.
Zero tolerance of violence against women must be established and enforced and without hesitation -- at every level of athletics and in every place that hallows power and money over justice, commerce over ethics, and institutional defense over decency.
We, as people of faith, need to send the message.
Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The (Un)Common Good: How the Gospel Brings Hope to a World Divided, the updated and revised paperback version of On God's Side, is available now.