Opinion: The NFL’s Changing Abuse Policies

Even if you have never watched football in your life, you most likely know who Ray Rice is. In this last month the media has blown up due to the public release of the now-suspended Baltimore Ravens running back knocking his fiancée, now wife, Janay Rice (nee Palmer) unconscious in a casino elevator. The fight occurred after Janay and Ray had been out to dinner with friends for Valentines Day.

In September elevator footage of the fight was publicly published by TMZSports. Since the incident, things have changed for the Rice family. Ray was suspended from two games immediately afterward and later was indefinitely suspended. The YouTube video of the incident currently has nine million views and the hype on the matter is not dying down. Social media maintains a constant buzz of criticism and a petition is circulating calling for the resignation of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell due to the original short suspension of Ray and the large time lapse before the NFL took action. Indeed, everyone seems to have an opinion on the matter.

In the U.S. we don’t take domestic abuse seriously enough. One in four women experience domestic violence at some point of their life. Of annual female homicides, One in three are killed by a current or former partner. Three million children witness domestic violence in the home every year. It is rarely reported and abusers generally do not face actual consequences due to situational context and lack of witnesses.

Football is a violent sport where many young people, boys and girls alike, find role models. The NFL taking couple violence seriously is not only important on a moral level, it can have a major impact on the views of the public on abuse, assault, and couple’s violence. When we change our culture in such a way, we can change the abusive patterns that it supports. The revised domestic violence policy the NFL adopted after the video was released may be the most productive thing to come out of the situation. This is because it may change how coaches, players and therefore fans and our larger culture view domestic violence.

This all noted, the public outcry and endless tweeting on the incident are doing more harm than help. A University of Michigan study shows that, “the same regions of the brain that become active in response to painful sensory experiences are activated during intense experiences of social rejection.” In this way, the public humiliation of the Rice family is continuing the violence. Janay Rice articulates this in her public statement on Sept. 9. She stated that, “No one knows the pain that the media and unwanted opinions from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing.”

Creating serious punishments for abusers is important, but it is not the way we will stop domestic abuse as a whole. Returning to the above statistic that three million children a year witness domestic abuse, and acknowledging that many men have been abused at some point in their lives, we see that the violence runs deep.


The reality is domestic abuse is common. This is an incident that has brought about good conversation in regard to couple’s violence but has focused all of our energy on only one couple and one incident. If you truly wish to change the culture of people being emotionally abused and hit by their partner, sign out of Twitter, stop reading Buzzfeed, and go out into your community. Telling the NFL how to change is easy because, for most of us, it is removed. Making changes in yourself, your home, and your community, can be hard. If you care deeply about it, be willing to do the hard work. Change the culture, not just the policy.