You would have to be living under a rock to not know that the National Football League and National Collegiate Athletic Association football have a public relations problem when it comes to violence against women.
Truth is, they have a real problem with violence against women, but they perceive it as simply a PR problem.
Here's my advice to the NFL and the NCAA: if you really, truly want to end violence against women, hire experts who do the research and implement it in our communities.
I'm not convinced the NFL really wants to end violence against women, at least not the violence perpetrated by their own players. Instead, they are taking several approaches that will deflect responsibility and attention, but do nothing to change the fundamental problem: that there are many men in the league who don't respect women and don't know how to resolve conflict without violence.
Action 1: Suspend, reactivate and suspend yet again the most recent offenders, who get paid even when they are sitting on the bench. This is nothing more than an attempt to appease an annoyed public and some corporate sponsors (Thanks Radisson, Anheuser-Busch, Nike and others for doing the right thing.)
Action 2: Encourage former football players to hold consciousness-raising sessions on national TV. An important aspect of the early feminist movements around domestic violence and sexual assault, the typical group involved researchers and practitioners who could dispel stereotypes and myths. Interestingly, the self-anointed "moderators" on NLF today, Chris Carter and Tom Jackson, did their best to disrupt stereotypes, but nonetheless stereotypes about child abuse, the inter-generational transmission of violence and women's roles in "provoking" violence were left unchecked, which ultimately does more harm than good.
Action 3: Hire former sex crimes prosecutors to advise the NFL. This seems like a good strategy if the goal is to figure out which cases won't be prosecuted (so you can avoid unnecessary suspensions) and which will (so you can figure out how to defend the accused).
Action 4: Make donations to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Assault Resource Center. This action will go a long way to bringing the good work of these organizations to the victims who need their assistance but it will do NOTHING to prevent or provide interventions for players who rape and beat women and children. NOTHING.
If you want to end violence against women, or at least end the perpetration of it by NFL and NCAA players, then you need to do the following, immediately:
1. Hold players accountable when they engage in violence against women. And, this begins in high school (remember Steubenville, OH) and extends into college and the professional ranks.
2. Provide appropriate intervention and training programs for first-time offenders that require them to address the privilege and entitlement they have as men and as athletes, teaches them to respect women and children, and provides training in conflict resolution and discipline that is not violence based.
3. Provide intervention programs, beginning in Pop Warner, that are age-appropriate and teach young men how to disrupt inappropriate behavior before it becomes violent.
I'm not convinced by any stretch of the imagination that the NFL, the NCAA or any sports league wants to eradicate violence against women. I think they are afraid of how deep the problems are and what it would mean to teach young men to be respectful while also developing the skills necessary to play college and professional sports. I think the leaders are also afraid to look too deeply into their own closets.
I hate to even think about how many men, women and children will have to be hurt by college and professional players, including their own (Jevon Belcher is one clear example) before violence against women and children perpetrated by athletes -- and especially professional football players -- is taken seriously.
To read more: Social Dynamics of Family Violence