Domestic violence is not new to the NFL.
Though domestic violence arrests among NFL players is lower than the national average, the league has had domestic violence issues for a long time. In the past, a number of high-profile arrests led to what many people argued were too lenient suspensions.
But it took the visceral, shocking video of Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice punching his fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an elevator to get people to sit up and take notice.
Take notice they did. Since the video came out, Rice’s suspension of two games was changed to indefinite and his contract terminated by the Ravens. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came under fire for his lax domestic violence policy and his bumbling of the Rice case. During a press conference last week, Goodell promised to seek out advice from prominent domestic violence groups and improve the league’s domestic violence policies. It did little to quiet the din of those calling for him to resign.
The NFL’s domestic abuse cases may get more attention but they are unfortunately the norm. Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County receives 5,800 calls to its 24-hour hotline each year and its emergency shelter, which recently increased its capacity to 52 beds, served more than 300 women and children last year.
“Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem, it is a community problem,” said DVS executive director Vicci Hilty. “Violence is unacceptable by anyone, anywhere and anytime.”
The recent Ray Rice case, along with Adrian Peterson’s child abuse controversy, has shone a bright light on domestic violence. From NFL pregame shows to social media, people have been arguing and discussing the usually taboo subject a lot. Two high-profile ESPN commentators have been suspended for discussing the cases and the fallout. This attention can be a two-edged sword, said Hilty.
“I think the positives start with the fact that so many people in the community have come forward and said this is unacceptable. That’s a huge step,” Hilty said.
“But it also brings to light victim-blaming and questions like ‘Why does she stay?’”
Debra Bordsen, deputy director at Domestic Violence Services, believes the video was important because it showed exactly what severe abuse looks like — no filter.
“I don’t think a lot of people related to abuse because they had never seen it,” said Bordsen.
There are a number of reasons why people stay in abusive relationships, including feeling trapped due to financial reasons and threats (Palmer married Ray Rice a few months after the incident). Hilty and Bordsen say they go to hundreds of schools and businesses each year to talk about how to recognize abusive behavior and the subsequent decision-making process.
“Safety planning is a big thing,” Bordsen said. “Make sure if you need to leave you know how to do that. (Victims of abuse) are isolated from friends and family. We encourage them to reach out.”
A divisive topic in the Rice and Peterson cases revolves around the question of whether or not fans — specifically women in the Rice case — should wear the players’ jerseys to games.
For Morgan Donaldson, who grew up in Marysville, this is a real question. As a Ravens fan now living in Crofton, Maryland, Donaldson owns a Rice jersey and used to wear it regularly. Since the incident she said it has stayed in her closet, though she did mention one of her friends wore a Rice jersey to a game.
“As a woman, of course, it’s concerning to me … but I don’t feel like I should stop being a Ravens fan because of one person’s actions,” Donaldson said.
Hilty said she wishes women like Donaldson’s friend or the other women who have worn Rice or Peterson jerseys to games in the aftermath of the suspensions understood the dynamics of abuse.
“I wish they understood that their actions could be seen as blaming the victim,” Hilty said. “They don’t see that when we support the abuser we’re sending a huge message that abuse is OK.”
This past weekend Goodell visited the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the NFL began airing anti-domestic abuse commercials during the broadcast of games, joining organizations like DVS in aiming for the stop of domestic violence. It may do nothing more than raise awareness, but Hilty said it’s at least a start.
“We want our community to know that violence can stop,” Hilty said. “It takes support and understanding as well a decision to once and for all stop blaming the victim. … It takes all us teaching our children what healthy relationships look like and putting our foot down and telling people that we are no longer going to accept this.”
If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County can help. They provide free and confidential services: emergency shelter, legal advocacy, support groups and domestic violence education. For information, please call their 24-hour crisis hotline: 425-25-ABUSE (425-252-2873).
DVS Children’s Art Show
Domestic Violence Services of Snohomish County is hosting a children’s art show at Schack Art Center on Thursday, Oct. 9 at 5 p.m. The event is free. For more information call 425-259-2827 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.