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The NFL’s Domestic Violence Problem

by Sean Begin

It was not a good week for the NFL, which means it was a great week for the NFL.

From the abysmal handling of former Ravens running back Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson beating his son with a switch, the NFL has been under fire for its handling of domestic violence issues.

The league has been hammered from all types of media: not just the usual sports media suspects like ESPN and Sports Illustrated, but major news organizations as well, have called out the NFL on it’s deafness to a growing problem.

In an article by Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight, domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of violent crime arrests in the NFL, compared to just 21 percent for the general population.

These numbers, coupled with the ineptitude in handling instances of domestic violence, have pushed the issue right into Commissioner Roger Goodell’s lap.

Goodell’s initial two-game suspension of Ray Rice for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious and dragging her from an elevator was swiftly met with outrage from many in the media as well as domestic violence organizations.

Goodell defended the initial suspension saying it fell in line with other first-time offenders. Yet, as Rice was receiving his suspension, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was getting one as well: a full year for violating the league’s drug policy by having marijuana in his system.

The disparity between the two punishments was obvious — that one should warrant two games’ suspension for hitting someone so hard they were rendered unconscious and another in which smoking weed results in a season’s hiatus.

The league quickly changed its policy, increasing the punishment to six games for a first-time offender and a lifetime ban for a repeat offender. While some called for an instant lifetime ban, the NFL has long had a second-chance attitude towards its players. Just see Michael Vick.

It wasn’t until the footage from the elevator that showed Rice hitting his then-fiancee (the two are now married) that the NFL really acted, suspending Rice indefinitely after he was cut from the Ravens.

Just this weekend, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was deactivated from Sunday’s game after a warrant for his arrest was issued for beating his son with a switch.

The Carolina Panthers soon followed suit, bowing to public pressure and deactivating defensive lineman Greg Hardy, who over the summer was arrested for beating his girlfriend and threatening to kill her.

Meanwhile, 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald played on a nationally televised game Sunday night despite facing domestic violence charges of his own. Even the mayor of San Francisco called for McDonald’s benching.

So what does this all mean for the NFL?

While this week has likely been one of the worst for Goodell in his time as commissioner, it could mean something good.

If the NFL acts appropriately and starts educating its players on domestic violence, then maybe this issue can be resolved. Until the NFL takes an active role in curbing the violent tendencies among players of an inherently violent sport, these crimes will continue to happen.