There's been much ado about something, plenty of nothing-somethings and somewhere in between since the video aired showing Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé (now wife) Janay Palmer out of an Atlantic City casino elevator. The incident rightfully triggered uproar among community groups, sports teams and national media. Outrage and controversy increased further when the NFL handed down a two-game suspension to Rice for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Afterwards, Rice proclaimed at a press conference, "I made the biggest mistake of my life... I want to own it," though he never really uttered what 'It' meant.
It - being domestic violence - provoked a firestorm of dialogue about an issue that is virtually overlooked or altogether ignored. And the data is staggering: 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are victims of domestic violence.
With recent data revealing that 21 out of 32 NFL teams employed a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge, now is the time for the NFL, other sports teams and coaches to act with positive peer pressure to prevent these assaults from disrupting their team, league and personal lives.
In college football, for instance, educating players about violence against women is becoming a priority. University of Alabama coach Nick Saban hosted a speaker during preseason camp to talk about the importance of compassion and respect for others. Saban hopes the session on domestic violence will play a role in showing the "kind of respect we want our players to show other people."
Additionally, prevention programs already exist that not only benefit teen athletes, but also their coaches. The Coaching Boys Into Men (CBIM) leadership program created by Futures Without Violence provides curriculum to coaches "to deliver 15-minute scripted discussions once a week during the athletic season" with sessions focusing on respect and nonviolence exercises. The sessions in this program are couched in the importance of "adult role models engaging boys in violence prevention," and suggest that "coach-led programs may be an alternative to traditional violence prevention programs that require classroom instruction."
Along with prevention programs, coaches must also affirm through a zero-tolerance policy that violence against women is unacceptable. Charlie Strong, head coach of the University of Texas football team, took a strong stand when two of his players were arrested and charged with felony sexual assault by suspending them indefinitely. In a statement announcing the suspension, Strong said, "It's been made clear to everyone on our team that treating women with respect is one of our core values, and I'm extremely disappointed that two young men in our program have been accused of not doing that."
Following the lead of these NCAA coaches, the NFL has the opportunity and the responsibility to step up and communicate that incidents of domestic violence will not be tolerated. Ray Rice said he will "own it," and the league has a responsibility to do the same by taking the following actions:
1. Learn about It. Get the facts. Understanding domestic violence will help you to become more educated and proactive about preventing it.
2. Talk about It. Raise awareness and educate your organization, your fans and especially your players.
3. Address It. Ensure that your personal conduct policy is current and addresses domestic violence explicitly.
4. Prevent It. Create a culture of zero tolerance by getting educated, encouraging open dialogue and developing a prevention and intervention plan.
While the league definitely needs to do more on this issue, I have to say to anyone involved: should you find yourself in a compromising, unhealthy or violent relationship, find the strength and courage to simply WALK AWAY.
As an avid fan of the NFL, I hate to see a family pastime that has become a staple in America's culture marred by such insidious actions. Moreover, having endured five generations of mothers and daughters that suffered and survived more than 60 years of domestic violence, I take It very seriously; and consequently, I implore the NFL to join me in the crusade to avoid another Ray Rice.