Here’s a suggestion for Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League.
Of late, the NFL has been roiled by the bad behavior of some of its members, including the violence former Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice inflicted upon his then-fiancée-now-wife, Janay Palmer. Video from security cameras show Rice punching Palmer and knocking her out cold in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February, and then dragging the unconscious Palmer from the elevator.
Once both videos were made public, Goodell, who’d earlier handed Rice a lame two-game suspension, had to act more forcibly. Though others are asking for his ouster, Goodell should stay where he is, and use the awesome power of the NFL to address domestic violence – this difficult public health issue.
Last year, the NFL pulled in a record-breaking $1.07 billion in sponsorship revenues. That’s more than any other professional sport in this country, and some of that comes from a new partnership with Microsoft, which is the exclusive provider of sideline technology for the league’s 32 teams.
Imagine that kind of corporate backing of domestic violence awareness initiatives. These days, when local and national intimate partner violence awareness and prevention organizations – such as the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence – go to corporate sponsors for funding, says Karen Jarmoc, coalition chief executive officer, the silence is deafening. One corporate official declined a funding request by explaining to Jarmoc that his organization “only gives to women’s health issues.”
As if domestic violence – which victimizes far more women than men, which the Center for Disease Control and Prevention calls a ”preventable public health problem” – doesn’t count as a woman’s health issue. A public service announcement campaign the coalition is launching in October, Domestic Violence Awareness Month, is underfunded precisely because would-be sponsors are so hard to find. Breast cancer, they get, and most corporate officials will don a pink tie, if asked.
But a purple tie?
“It’s tough,” said Jarmoc. “They’re uncomfortable with it, and not one of them is giving to the PSA campaign we’ve been trying to get money for.”
The NFL is no longer allowed that kind of squeamishness. The public release of those videos made sure of that. The video has shamed the league into going beyond simply suspending one player.
Let’s be honest: The sight of that first video made public, where Rice is nonchalantly dragging an unconscious Palmer from the elevator, should have been enough. Only public outcry – and the public release of the knockout punch, moved the league to act appropriately.
In the same way, continued public shaming of Goodell’s league can work wonders. The women’s group, UltraViolet, staged protests and flew banners over stadiums this weekend calling for Goodell to leave.
But now, he has skin in the game. Now, he has a personal stake in making sure the NFL’s new tougher policies are actually implemented. Locally, women’s groups are watching, as is Connecticut’s Washington delegation – including Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro. Blumenthal co-wrote an essay for Time that mentioned the league’s anti-trust exemptions, and broad taxpayer benefits. DeLauro held a press conference on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act that referenced the NFL, and reminded victims of the resources available to them.
“People are talking about this like never before,” said Jarmoc. “They’re talking about it around the water cooler, in firehouses, in educational institutions. People are stopping me because they want to talk about it. It’s broadening people’s viewpoint. What we want to do is create sustainable change. I don’t want this to be old news two or three weeks from now.”
That could start with the NFL lending its megawatt star power to doing some good. Follow the lead of CBS announcer James Brown, who took to the airwaves earlier this month in a Ravens pregame show to call for education about what “healthy, respectful manhood is all about.” That goes beyond whether Goodell keeps his $44 million-a-year job.