NEWSFLASH: Rising Chorus Calls for NFL to Take Action on Domestic Violence

4344827584_5d8d84c099_zA bipartisan group of 16 women senators on Thursday, led by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), joined a growing chorus of voices calling for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to institute a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence. Goodell has been targeted by feminists and others for failing to act appropriately when NFL players face assault charges.

Earlier this week, TMZ released footage of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an elevator in February, then dragging out her unconscious body. Rice was indicted on charges of aggravated assault after the incident —prompting the NFL to suspend him for just two games—but only a video of him dragging Palmer’s body from the elevator had been made public. After TMZ published the full footage, the Ravens terminated Rice’s contract and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Rice may face more criminal charges; so far, he’s only been assigned to a 12-month pre-trial intervention program, after which the charges against him could be dropped.

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Two reports Wednesday prompted the women senators to take action: First, the Associated Press quoted a source who alleged that an NFL executive received the complete footage of the incident back in April—representatives for the NFL deny the claim—but failed to discipline him beyond the two-game suspension. A second report from ABC News claimed that NFL officials knew Rice’s lawyer had a copy of the video but never asked to see it.

In a letter to Goodell, the senators wrote,

We were shocked and disgusted by the images we saw this week of one of your players violently assaulting his now-wife and knocking her unconscious, and at new reports that the NFL may have received this video months ago. Tragically, this is not the only case of an NFL player allegedly assaulting a woman even within the last year. … We are deeply concerned that the NFL’s new policy, announced last month, would allow a player to commit a violent act and return after a short [six-game] suspension. If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL.

Even before the senators spoke out, Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, went further and urged Goodell to resign, saying the NFL has failed time and again to punish players who abuse women:

The NFL has lost its way. It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem; it has a violence against women problem. … The only workable solution is for Roger Goodell to resign and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the NFL community and to recommend real and lasting reforms.

Twelve Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to Goodell this week questioning how the case has been handled. They wrote,

Given the important role the NFL and the other major professional sports leagues can play in shaping public perceptions concerning domestic violence, it would appear to be in the public interest to have the highest level of transparency associated with reviews of potential misconduct.

Meanwhile, two other NFL players facing domestic violence charges—one convicted, one still under investigation—remain on the field. Their teams have released no information about the cases.

While Goodell has announced no plans for resignation, he said Wednesday that former FBI director Robert S. Mueller III will conduct an independent investigation—to be overseen by team owners John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers—into the NFL’s handling of the Rice case. Mueller, a partner at a D.C. law firm, will make his full report public.

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Photo of Roger Goodell courtesy of Flickr user Anthony Quintano


Stephanie hails from Toronto, Canada. She is a Ms. writer, a master of journalism candidate and a hip hop dancer/instructor/choreographer. She got her start in feminist journalism at the age of 16 when she was a member of the first editorial collective at Shameless magazine—and she has never looked back.