The National Football League (NFL) is trying to clean up their tarnished image after public outcry over the recent handling of domestic violence by players. After video surfaced showing Baltimore Raven Ray Rice punching and dragging his then-fiancée, the league announced a new "zero-tolerance" policy towards domestic violence. However, criticism continues with some suggesting the changes are too little, too late.
In late August, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged his mistake in handling the Ray Rice incident. Goodell, in an open letter to NFL team owners, wrote, "I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will." He continued, "my disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families."
Under the new policy, "violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant." Second offenses would result in a lifetime ban.
A group of NFL wives have argued for a seat at the table to speak with the league on domestic violence issues. They have sent two letters to the NFL asking to be part of the conversation.
Latasha Wilson-Batch, wife of former Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch added, "we can offer a lot. We are the women that share stories and talk to each other and understand what goes on behind closed doors a lot."
Some have criticized the new policy, pointing to the examples of other players receiving the same, or even harsher penalties for marijuana violations. Wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for a marijuana violation. Even the domestic violence lifetime bans could be appealed after one-year.
In a list compiled by USA Today, domestic violence accounts for 85 of the 713 NFL player arrests since 2000. Many of the other arrests involve drug possession or DUIs. The NFL Players Association and the league continue to go back and forth in resolving drug and DUI penalties.
Even with the criticism and outcry over players involvement in domestic violence, so far, there is no real evidence that the issue is affecting the NFL's bottom line. The NFL is a tax-exempt organization bringing in $10 billion dollars a year. The average NFL game gets nearly eight times the viewership of the average broadcast television show. With those millions of viewers watching live games comes billions of dollars in endorsements. But so far ratings remain strong, and for fans of professional football, the NFL is the only game in town. Even Republican Representative from Wisconsin, Paul Ryan, stated that while he is upset with the NFL's mishandling of the Ray Rice episode, his viewing habits have not changed.
Other lawmakers have chimed in, both criticising the NFL and seeking to strip the league of it'stax-exempt status. The move to reclassify the NFL may be more of a symbolic gesture, as the individual teams still pay taxes, and even without tax exemption, the bottom line to the league would probably not result in much of a loss to their highly profitable empire.
The NFL is one of only a small number of employers who have a policy on domestic violence that is aimed at the perpetrators. The league has been criticized for their soft penalties on domestic violence in the past. While a lot has been made of the league's new zero-tolerance policy, we have yet to see whether the changes will have any impact on reducing domestic violence in the NFL.