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In Recent Years Violence Has Found

In recent years, violence has found its way into the media more and more. It is most often found in the form of athletic events. From fighting in hockey to sacking in football, aggression can be found everywhere in professional sports. If this violent behavior was left on the field, it would bring no harm to the community. However, we know that this violent behavior is incapable of staying within the boundaries and safety of the sporting arenas. That aggression is often taken off the field and turned into something much more dangerous: violent behavior against spouses and children. There is an increasing need for professional sports leagues to amend their policies on personal player conduct in order to establish a zero tolerance for domestic and sexual violence.

Domestic violence accounts for 48% of arrests involving violent crimes among NFL players, compared to the estimated 21% of domestic violence arrests nationally (Morris). Domestic violence affects roughly 25% of women in America. As one of four daughters, that means that there is potential for either myself or one of my sisters to be abused. As an older sibling, that statistic makes me angry that domestic violence is still an issue and afraid for my little sisters. It’s imperative that the issue is firmly and swiftly dealt, inside professional sports and otherwise, in order to drastically reduce the percentage of women affected by domestic violence. The rise in domestic and sexual violence cases is both frightening and concerning, especially among professional athletes. Due to the recent altercation between running back Ray Rice and his then fiancée, now wife, Janay Palmer, in which Rice was caught on tape punching Palmer and then dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator, the need for stricter policies regarding domestic violence is overwhelming. With the increased rates of domestic violence comes the need for professional sports leagues to make changes to their player conduct policies in order that there be a decrease, rather than the increase currently seen, in domestic violence. Not every case of domestic violence is as publicized as Rice’s continues to be, but it has certainly brought to the light the prevalence of this issue.

Many professional sports leagues, such as the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, have had very little need for policies that deal directly with domestic abuse. However, with the current controversy and scrutiny from fans and corporate sponsors arising from the recent cases in the National Football League, the NHL and MLB are now being forced to consider such policies. In September 2014, MLB and it’s Player’s Association met to discuss what procedures would be used in the event of such a case taking place. The consensus was that precautions were in order to lessen the likelihood of domestic violence becoming a problem within the MLB. Bud Selig, MLB Commissioner, is aware not only of the severity of the issue, but also “the responsibility of baseball to quickly and firmly address off-field conduct by our players, even potentially in situations in which the criminal justice system does not do so” (Waldron). Professional sports leagues have a responsibility to their fans to hold their athletes to a higher standard of behavior. Their athletes’ lives are on display for all to see and their actions reflect the integrity and morals of the organizations they represent.

In some cases, the actions, or lack of actions, of the organizations reflects poorly on the sports leagues as a whole, such as with the handling of the Ray Rice issue. The repercussions of Rice’s actions were lenient at first, a two game suspension, and then added to in the following months as more evidence surfaced, but the way in which the NFL responds to each case varies considerably overall. Dallas Cowboys safety CJ Spillman continues to play while being investigated on accusations of rape and sexual assault occurring during both his time with the 49ers and the Cowboys. Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested on assault charges and subsequently benched. Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with felony child-abuse and removed from the starting lineup, only to be placed on a special type of list that allows him to be paid while not playing. No two teams deal with the violence and their players the same way, giving way for flexibility for teams and no standard for them to be held to in their dealings. All this goes to show that there’s a need not only for stricter rules and policies concerning domestic abuse, but also uniformity amongst the teams in the penalties for violating those regulations. Each case needs to be dealt with in the same way, establishing a set penalty and expectation of what each team will do if and when domestic violence cases occur.

Moreover, the NFL and other professional sports leagues need be upfront about what their policies are, exactly, and how they plan to address situations should they arise. Congresswoman Diana DeGette sums up what changes need to take place nicely in a letter she wrote, asking professional sports leagues to explain in a public hearing how they are acting to educate their players about violence against women, what they are doing to prevent them from engaging in such violence, and whether they are administering appropriate punishments for athletes who commit violence against women” (DeGette). By announcing publicly what each sports league is planning to do to address the issue of domestic violence, it holds the organization to a high standard of accountability; not only would the league be accountable to it’s players, but also to it’s fans. The media can be vicious, but perhaps that’s the wake up call the sports leagues need: to be raked through the coals by their audiences in order for them to understand the severity of the crimes their athletes are involved in.

While the suspensions include the athletes not being paid, when considering the overall impact on the athletes income, the results of a two game suspension are negligible. The light punishments, such as Rice’s initial two game suspension, offer no incentive for the athletes to change their behavior. Before Ray Rice and the incident with his wife took place, the consequences for an athlete involved in a domestic abuse case varied from case to case. Already, in the months following the incident, the NFL is taking steps towards ensuring that their athletes handle themselves in accordance with the personal conduct policies. Commissioner Roger Goodell, on the subject of how the NFL handled Rice’s situation, said, “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will” (Goodell). He goes on to outline the changes the NFL is putting in place in order to, as he says, do better. Among those changes are lengthening the suspension time for the first offense from two games to six, and for the second offense a lifetime ban, which can be appealed and removed after one year at the league’s discretion. These penalties are harsher than those previously used, something that could potentially lead to a decrease in the violence seen.

Aggression is a huge part of sports, and is something that the crowds look forward to and respond to. Something is considered to be missing from sports if there is a lack of aggression, or an easy win. The on the field aggression connects the audience and the athletes as the crowd responds and athletes become pumped up on adrenaline and the desire to win. The environment of sports in and of itself is one that encourages aggressive and violent behavior. “Some argue that athletes are predisposed to commit acts of domestic abuse and sexual assault because they are trained to use violence and intimidation for a psychological edge during their games and because sports create a “macho sub- culture” that equates masculinity with violence” (Whithers 148). The correlation between on the field aggression and the prevalence of off the field violence is hard to miss.

With the media having a field day as it is with the Ray Rice debacle, excuses are being made in shoddy attempts to explain away the presence of aggression in professional athletes. Among those excuses is that of childhood environment and upbringing, or the argument that aggressive behavior and exposure to aggression during early childhood and adolescence points towards and predicts violent behavior during adulthood. Michael Oher, a former teammate of Ray Rice, grew up in extreme poverty and was surrounded by substance abuse and violent behavior until high school, when he was taken in by Sean and Leigh Anne Touhy and their family. While many NFL players who had come from similar backgrounds exhibited exactly the type of behavior required, “…angry, it made you aggressive, it made you want to tear someone’s head off” (Lewis 80), Oher did not. Everything in his upbringing pointed towards the development of an angry, violent adult, and yet he remained a good kid who didn’t have a desire to hurt anyone. Environment, then, while certainly a deciding factor in many branches of behavior and development, doesn’t need to dictate the course of an individual’s actions. The manifestation of an individual’s rage in the form of aggression and violence can be circumvented by mandating anger management courses and education on the subject domestic violence within each sports league.

As it is, the continuation of domestic and sexual assault crimes amongst NFL players stems largely from it’s vague and often times lenient player personal conduct policies, although they are currently undergoing significant changes. By the league creating an environment where violent behavior is not tolerated off of the field, it’s taking steps towards dissuading athletes from engaging in those behaviors. Currently the penalties for those involved in domestic or sexual related abuse in the NFL are merely a slap on the wrist for athletes involved. Adding and amending policies will help to circumvent the occasion of there ever being another case like Rice’s and promote an awareness for violent crimes against women. The installation of harsher penalties and suspensions will not only benefit the community as a whole by helping to discourage domestic abuse, but it will also serve to maintain the integrity and image of professional sports leagues individually.

It’s unreasonable to think that by instating policies to discourage violent behavior that it will be completely eradicated overnight. However, by the NFL and other professional sports leagues cracking down on offenders and making it apparent that they will not stand for the abuse, the message is sent that domestic and sexual violence as a whole is unacceptable. This is an issue that exists outside of the world of sports, but by holding our athletes, our role models, our public heroes, to a higher behavior standard, awareness for the issue is created — something that is necessary in order to decrease it’s prevalence. The NFL and other professional sports leagues have the incredible opportunity to set the stage for a society in which domestic and sexual abuse is not tolerated, but only if they put into motion policies and penalties that encourage their athletes to behave properly off the field.

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