The NFL Must Stop Promoting Sexism -- and Start Promoting More Women

The goal of the NFL policy should be to stop violence against women -- not to punish perpetrators to turn down the heat when a high-profile case causes a public relations nightmare.
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There was a collective gasp at the horrific video footage of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée with enough force to knock her out cold. The public outcry was loud enough to prod Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Ravens to finally impose stronger penalties -- removing Rice from football, at least for now.

Did Goodell really need to see the video to know he fumbled and had not recovered when he allowed his paltry two-game suspension to stand -- even after admitting that it was wrong? Why has Goodell failed to mete out a similar penalty to Panther's player Greg Hardy, who was convicted in his domestic violence court case? The difference is that there is no video footage of Hardy beating his intimate partner and, thus, the tenor of the public outrage is not as great.

The NFL policy on players who perpetrate violence against women needs to be clear and consistent. The punishment for players who commit acts of domestic violence and rape should match the crime. The goal of the NFL policy should be to stop violence against women -- not to punish perpetrators to turn down the heat when a high-profile case causes a public relations nightmare.

This latest reminder of the NFL's violence against women problem renews my concerns about its new policy, which only begins to grapple with the issue of domestic violence perpetrated by players and fails to address the larger issues of other forms of violence against women and rampant misogyny within the NFL.

Violence against women is endemic in the NFL. Slate's Justin Peters reported "21 of 32 NFL teams, at one point [in 2012], had employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record."

This violence manifests from the culture of sexism in football. From the skimpy, sexualized "uniforms" cheerleaders are forced to wear to the denigrating ads during big games from companies like GoDaddy, the message is clear: Women are objects and it's OK to use, abuse and disrespect them.

Even now, the commissioner appears to fall short of implementing systemic change that will get at the root cause of the violence. He may have dropped the ball again by failing to move bold initiatives that do more than punish players by actually supporting women.

The NFL's stronger policy to address the issue of domestic violence is a start. But we need to hear more. And the NFL needs to do more. Policy revisions must also address the undeniable problem of sexual assaults committed by players -- as well as dismantle the old boy network that promotes the devaluation of women within football and society at large.

The violence against women problem doesn't start when players make the pros. We see countless examples in high schools and colleges across the country. The NFL should partner with the NCAA and school athletics officials across the country to implement anti-violence against women education programs for their players. They all need to step up their game. But it is incumbent upon Goodell to get off the bench and lead the charge to end violence against women within football at all levels.

The NFL must stop promoting sexism on and off of the field -- and start promoting more women. Integrate women into the workforce of NFL coaches, referees and players. (Yes, there are women who could play.) Goodell will not fix this problem unless he leads by example and shows that he and the NFL value women, including women's leadership in and contributions to football.

The NFL also needs to be transparent in this process. Understandably, Goodell and his league have a credibility gap. We need more than the commissioner's assurance that the NFL is working with experts to do better. We need to know which experts are being consulted and what the education programs look like. We also need to know that women have equal representation at the table where the NFL's anti-domestic violence policies are being discussed. The commissioner must do more than talk about violence against women; he needs to listen to women and ensure that women are well represented among the architects of the NFL's new policies.

Fans, officials and the players' union all need to work together to change the culture and create a higher standard of accountability and responsibility within football. As fans, we need to demand better. If we continue to cheer for our favorite teams while players rape and beat women with impunity, then we're part of the problem. We have the power to force the NFL to change for the better.

Join the Ms. Foundation in congratulating Goodell for finally doing something about domestic violence. And let's call him to task and demand that he get serious about eradicating violence against women from football.

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