The announcement yesterday that Roger Goodell had sent a letter to all of the NFL team owners regarding changes to the league’s Personal Conduct Policy regarding domestic violence and sexual assault had newsfeeds jammed with commentary. I’ve been trying to decide since I read Goodell’s statement whether or not I should put my own two-cents in regarding the new disciplinary actions, standards and policies set forth by the governing body of the multi-billion dollar industry that is pro-football.
I will try and keep it short.
I think that the new disciplinary actions are appropriately stringent: six game unpaid suspension for a first offense and indefinite but minimum one year suspension for a second offense. The offender would have to file for reinstatement after that one year period and there is no guarantee (implied or otherwise) that he would get his job back. The expanded educational components, i.e. character training provided to college, high school and youth football programs for players as well as all coaching staff and employees (the teaching of respect for oneself and for others) is a critical element in stopping domestic violence and sexual assault before it starts, and I was thrilled to see that the governing body of the NFL will be pouring much needed funds into this essential element. Prevention is the key.
My biggest concern with the whole ball of wax are the following two statements: “… appropriate team personnel will undergo comprehensive training to help them understand and identify risk factors associated with domestic violence and sexual assault. Any person identified will be afforded private, confidential assistance…” and “…(the NFL) will ensure trained personnel provide assistance to anyone at risk of becoming a victim or potential aggressor of domestic violence or sexual assault…”.
What does that actually mean? While I understand that Roger Goodell could not lay out every piece of the puzzle and that the NFL has no obligation to release specific details of the new standards, I couldn’t help but wonder: what diagnostic tests are they going to be using to “identify risk factors” and what “risk factors” are they referring to specifically? Are they going to mail home questionnaires to wives and girlfriends? Ask players and personnel to take personality tests? Will intake counseling be done when someone is hired by the NFL? Are they going to do separate intake counseling for children of players and staff? Will the players, staff and their families be shown pictures (“What do you see in this inkblot?”) or will they be asked, “Tell me about your childhood… home life… dreams… previous relationships…fantasies of violence… frequency of use of violent video games/pornography…”?
How will this “appropriate team personnel” be trained in order to identify “potential aggressors” and “anyone at risk of becoming a victim”? What red flags are these human resource professionals, staff counselors and psychologists going to be looking for in order to identify these potential aggressors and victims? Even the most seasoned and highly educated mental health professional would be hard-pressed to agree that they could effectively predict how any human being might react to any situation 100% of the time. Will poor anger management and conflict resolution skills be a red flag? Drug and alcohol abuse? Lack of effective communication skills?
Unfortunately, while all of these issues may lead to difficulties in one’s life and marriage, addressing them alone will not solve the problem of domestic violence or sexual assault. Both domestic violence and sexual assault are control and entitlement issues; solving a drinking or drug problem will not make an abuser stop abusing. Teaching an individual to manage his anger will not stop him from assaulting or intimidating his partner physically, emotionally or psychologically. Teaching a man to communicate more effectively will not stop sexual assault.
While I think that the harsher disciplinary actions and community outreach efforts are a great start, I believe that the NFL needs to take a second look at the “counseling” aspect for perpetrators. If they’re not prepared to address physical/sexual violence against another human being as a completely separate issue from poor anger management/conflict resolution/communication skills and drug and alcohol abuse, then they’re dropping the ball. Now is not the time to fumble or to simply go for the Hail-Mary. What the NFL does from this point on will set a huge precedent. Domestic violence and sexual assault are at the forefront of our minds and hearts right now for a reason. The governing body of the NFL need to say “no more” and they need to mean it. They will not get a second chance; there will be no two-point conversion. They need to do something real and meaningful and they need to do it now. Right now.