The National Football League attracted much unwanted attention last year surrounding the issue of domestic violence in its ranks. When the now-infamous Ray Rice elevator video went viral, the embarrassing incompetence of the league in handling domestic abuse was exposed, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was forced to answer to the public.
Now that the league is scrambling to show it takes its players’ off-field behavior seriously, it debuted an anti-domestic violence PSA from the nonprofit organization No More during the Super Bowl, the most-watched television event of the year. The chilling ad was the first of its kind to air during the event and was a nice change from the usual bombardment of objectifying and sexist commercials.
What many don’t know about the commercial is that the audio was taken from an actual call to 911. We hear a woman speaking with a 911 dispatcher about her pizza order. Once the dispatcher catches on that the woman’s abuser is still in the room—hence the pretense of the pizza—he sends police officers to the scene. The somber PSA ends with the words, “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”
As sports writer Dave Zirin points out in the upcoming issue of Ms., the NFL has a responsibility to use some of its vast capital–both economic and cultural–to address the problem of domestic violence. It accounts for 48 percent of violent-crime arrests among NFL players, compared to an estimated 21 percent nationally, according to FiveThirtyEight writer Benjamin Morris.
The reason for the high rate? As Zirin reports in the Ms. feature, the NFL could well look to the growing body of evidence showing a link between violent behavior and brain damage caused by repeated head trauma.
Backing the PSA was a decent start, but hopefully it’s only the beginning of a major shift in how the NFL treats domestic abuse and violence against women.