The NFL has been vigilant in suspending players for P.E.D. violations and other forms of self-destructive behavior such as substance abuse, but it has been sparse in enforcing penalties for destructive behavior toward others. In suspending Josh Brown for only one game at the beginning of the 2016 season, the NFL underreacted to the seriousness of domestic violence among its players. The league claimed it had launched an investigation regarding its concerns about Brown, and determined that the lack of evidence along with the lack of "cooperation" on the part of Brown's ex-wife, Molly, did not warrant a stiffer penalty.
When he was arrested in 2015 for assaulting his wife, Brown minimized the incident as "just a moment," but Molly told police that he had assaulted her more than twenty times.
The significance of the Josh Brown scandal is that it highlights domestic violence in the NFL. It is emblematic of a potentially much larger issue in the NFL culture in which domestic violence may be a widespread occurrence.
There are several factors which predispose some NFL players to be at high risk for such behavior. Many athletes come from a background in which relationship conflicts lead to violent solutions, and people tend to internalize the pathways for dealing with conflict that they were exposed to while growing up. Troy Vincent, the NFL executive vice president of football operations, has highlighted this risk factor in pointing out that "domestic violence was the way of life in my home. It was just part of the community to beat your wife or your girlfriend." And Vance Johnson, a former Denver Broncos star, echoes this theme in his autobiography, in which he describes himself as a domestic violence abuser in his first two marriages. Johnson links his early life experiences "where everywhere I looked men abused women. All of the women were really battered and abused emotionally and physically. It was just a way of life, and no one ever did anything about it. " Joe Torre, another sports celebrity, has described the impact of domestic violence in his childhood household, and has developed a Foundation appropriately called Safe at Home.
A second factor which puts athletes at risk for domestic violence is the sports culture which emphasizes aggression and dominance as primary components of masculinity. Because of their celebrity, many athletes are prone to acquire a distorted view of themselves in which they feel entitled to do the world on their terms, and are at risk for overreacting, sometimes violently, when their partners are not submissive. In this vein it is noteworthy that Josh Brown has stated that, "I viewed myself as God basically, and she (Molly) was my slave." We can only wonder about how many other players are guilty of domestic violence? It could be legions. How many athletes have intimidated their partners with an implicit or explicit threat that if you don't do what I want, I will O.J. you? It could be prevalent.
Going forward there are two central issues that require attention. One task is to establish more effective ways to reduce future incidents within the NFL ranks. Possible deterrents include stiff suspensions, repeated seminars with professional counselors, and greater oversight by the coaching staff regarding the players' off-the-field lives. League actions which reinforce the reality that suspensions can result in substantial loss of income and even loss of one's career are needed. The NFL must also take steps to foster a climate that encourages women to safely come forward without shame.
The second issue is for the NFL to take actions relevant to the Josh Brown saga that create a takeaway message to kids that the mistreatment of women is always unacceptable.
Author of "Athletes Who Indulge Their Dark Side" and "Sports Heroes, Fallen Idols"
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