Domestic violence has been a problem for the National Football League for some time – both in the number of incidents and in the league’s lenient response to them. The case involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice made it an issue the NFL can no longer ignore.
The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely after an outcry over a video showing him knocking his then-fiancée unconscious. Not long afterward, the Carolina Panthers put defense player Greg Hardy on the inactive list after he was convicted of assaulting a former girlfriend.
Amid the outcry over the league’s treatment of domestic violence, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that its personal conduct policy had failed.
Indeed, the league has a history of not punishing players for domestic violence or punishing them less severely than for offenses such as drug use, the New York Times reported.
Earlier this year, an analyst for the website FiveThirtyEight.com attempted to shed light on the rate of arrests for domestic violence in the NFL. The analysis found:
The arrest rate among NFL players for domestic violence is lower than the national average for men ages 25-29. The NFL players’ domestic violence arrest rate is 55.4% of the average for men ages 25-29. However, this is higher than the players’ arrest rates for other crimes relative to the average for men in that age group.
Among NFL players, domestic violence accounts for 48% of all arrests for violent crime. But among all men ages 25-29, domestic violence accounts for 21% of arrests for violent crime.
The domestic-violence arrest rate for NFL players appears high for people of their income. The players’ households tend to fall in the top 1% of income levels. At these income levels, the national domestic violence arrest rate is under 20%.
The San Diego Union-Times maintains a database of arrests of NFL players from 2000 to the present. Entries for Carolina Panthers players reveal the following:
- Between 2000 and 2010, the database lists two arrests for domestic violence and four for assault, including two separate incidents in which female strip club workers were allegedly assaulted.
- In the same time period, the database lists six instances of driving under the influence of alcohol and four instances of arrests on charges of carrying concealed weapons.
What the database reports is limited. For instance, it contains no mention of the 2001 conviction of Carolina Panthers player Rae Carruth for conspiracy to murder his girlfriend, Cherica Adams.
The NFL says it considers domestic violence to be unacceptable in all circumstances and has adopted new penalties for violations.
Meanwhile, women’s groups, including wives and girlfriends of NFL players, are seeking a voice in the discussion. The NFL is rightly focused on the conduct of its players. But the women’s organizations are also right to raise concerns about the survivors of domestic violence.
As the NFL and many other organizations look for a better way to address domestic violence, it is important to take the needs of victims into account. The cycle of domestic abuse often depends on a victim’s confusion, fear and self-doubt. Any policy should encourage victims to report domestic violence. And it should make sure to protect their safety when they do.