This piece was coauthored by Sudha Shetty, assistant dean of international alliances and partnerships, UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, and Jeffrey Edleson, dean and professor, social welfare.
The NFL leadership and team-management responses to domestic violence committed by Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers missed the goal on all counts. The light suspensions, the waiting to receive more information, to suggestion that a wife caused the violence, and then the dramatic indefinite suspension and contract severance were all the wrong responses to these events.
What NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the management of both teams should have done is recognize that their players need to be held accountable but also provide support for these young players to make major changes in their own interpersonal behavior toward their intimate partners and family members.
Together we have over 50 years of experience working with men who batter and the women and children they victimize. Our concern is that the early NFL and management responses did not hold the players accountable at first. We are also concerned by the recent severance of Ray Rice’s contract, leaving his wife and child even more vulnerable to blame from him and leaving the entire family without resources to seek to change Mr. Rice’s behavior.
The goal of holding these men accountable for their illegal and harmful behavior toward their spouses is a good one. But holding these men accountable, and helping them change, is much harder than simply meting out punishments for first or second offenses. The NFL took a punitive and easy way out of this situation and the message was not one of hope for rehabilitation and inclusion. By expelling Ray Rice, the NFL has cut off not only Mr. Rice but his wife, Janay, and their child, as well.
A much more positive response from the NFL and team management would have been to provide significant suspension of the players but to also provide domestic-violence services in support of the women and children in these men’s lives. The league and managers should make it clear to these players that they need to actively engage in batterer intervention programs available in Baltimore, San Francisco and elsewhere across the country.
Return to the sport at which these talented young men are so skilled should be a possibility once they have shown their families and others that they can change how they behave within intimate relationships. Millions of men and women hold these players as role models; their changed behavior can become an important model as well.
Supporting positive change while also supporting the safety of the women and children in these players’ lives is not easy. But it’s the compassionate way to increase safety for family members and help these young men correct terrible errors in their lives. The NFL and team leadership will make the goal and demonstrate positive values for the country by supporting heroes at play and in the home.