With the Super Bowl in Sight, the NFL Must Have Zero Tolerance for Domestic Violence in 2015

This weekend marks the end of a momentous season for one of America's favorite institutions -- the National Football League. I say "momentous" not because records were broken, not due to stats or ticket sales or viewership, but because -- finally -- this enormously powerful and high-profile institution was forced to confront a widespread issue that affects one in four women in America: domestic violence.

My assessment? The NFL missed the mark in many, many ways. But that doesn't mean they can't rectify those mistakes as they gear up for a new season. Moreover, the NFL inadvertently launched a national dialogue around domestic violence -- a dialogue that we all need to continue.

We all know the Ray Rice saga and the events that led up to today. Much has been written about what the NFL did or didn't know; what Janay Rice did or didn't want; what disciplinary measures should or should not have been taken. It is clear that the NFL made many mistakes in its handling of this case. The question now is: where do we go from here?

Our societal collective memory is notoriously short when it comes to violence against women -- we blame women, we refuse to trust them, and then we fail to hold abusers accountable. We must remember what happened to Janay Rice -- what Ray Rice did to her -- and use this event to effect social change.

64 percent of Americans say they watch NFL football, according to a 2011 Adweek/Harris poll, and playoff games might attract nearly 30 million viewers. The NFL's prominence means that their missteps, particularly in sensitive areas like domestic violence, have far reaching consequences.

The NFL's popularity also means it has great power to create change around social issues -- if leaders like Commissioner Roger Goodell want to make that happen.

And there has been progress. In the past months, the NFL has invited my own staff at Sanctuary for Families, along with our colleagues at other anti-gender violence organizations, to attend a number of trainings within their New York City offices. The league created a task force of leaders in the field to update its domestic violence policies and made financial commitments to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. The NFL's personal conduct policy has been updated to clearly articulate the repercussions for domestic violence offenses. NO MORE's incredibly compelling anti-violence ads ran regularly during major weekend football games, and a new spot will run during the Super Bowl.

Now the commissioner and the team owners must keep up the momentum -- and push it further. The NFL has already demonstrated its ability to effectively turn public attention on a range of issues, from breast cancer awareness to support for military families. As the 2014 season comes to a close, NFL leaders should be strategizing about how to bring awareness -- and dollars -- to domestic violence in 2015.

Since the NFL issued its initial punishment for Rice, five more NFL players have been arrested for domestic violence. As of Two have been let off without repercussions from the law or the NFL and three more have yet to be resolved, according to USA Today as of Jan. 29. These are test cases for whether we are now dealing with a new NFL.

After the Super Bowl celebrations end this Sunday, I hope the NFL leaders will sharpen their focus on this crisis that affects their league and so many of their fans -- and take big steps to ensure that the 2015 professional football season is one that has zero tolerance for domestic violence.

Hon. Judy Harris Kluger is the Executive Director of Sanctuary for Families, New York's New York's leading service provider and advocate for survivors of domestic violence, sex trafficking, and related forms of gender violence.

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