As Senator Claire Mc Caskill (Democrat of Missouri) said in her testimony at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on the issue of professional sports and violence against women: “With great power and influence comes great responsibility.” The leagues seem to understand their responsibility now—or at least that there will be a media backlash if they do not think critically about drafting and, even more importantly, implementing policies that recognize violence against women as a punishable offense by the leagues. As a league, we must have a continued focus on the needs of victims and families; among other things, we must encourage victims and those who observe such misconduct to come forward, to report offenses, and to seek help.” Unfortunately, this recent rhetoric does not align with the way the leagues handled domestic violence and sexual assault prior to the media maelstrom—in fact, it is a departure.
The NFL is leading the way, with Commissioner Goodell having hired three female experts in the field to inform NFL policy—Lisa Friel, the former head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office, Jane Randel, co-founder of NO MORE, and Rita Smith, the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Further, the NFL owners have approved a revised personal conduct policy that, among other things, sets forth a process of review and punishment with respect to allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault (the “Revised NFL Policy”). Commissioner Goodell stated, “Character and values sit[s] above everything else because [the NFL represents] something that means so much to so many people.” Specifically with respect to domestic violence and sexual assault, Commissioner Goodell stated: “Each is a societal problem that is frequently underreported . A review of domestic violence and sexual assault allegedly perpetrated by athletes in MLB, the NFL and the NBA from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2014 shows that the leagues have not had such a “continued focus” to date.
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