Following intense public scrutiny, the National Football League announced Aug. 28 that players would face increased penalties for domestic violence offenses.
In July, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice received a two-game suspension for assaulting his fiancée, an act that was caught on camera and made public. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell experienced backlash for the light punishment he issued. It was a significantly more lenient sanction than players face for other offenses, such as full-season suspensions for marijuana possession, which was the case for Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon in May 2014.
Goodell has acknowledged the criticism with a new policy. The players will now be suspended for a mandatory six games for their first domestic violence offense and banned for life for the second offense. However, players can petition for reinstatement after one year. While NFL players are judged largely by their skills on the field, they are still public figures with large fan bases and because the NFL is an influential institution, the organization’s decision to increase penalties for domestic violence offenses was the socially appropriate decision and should have been made much earlier.
Although Rice’s domestic violence offense did not happen on the field, his personal identity is intertwined with his professional NFL career. The lifetime ban of Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, from the National Basketball Association in April after he was recorded making racist comments shows how much the lines between private and personal behavior have blurred.
Average individuals face severe consequences for similar conduct, and NFL players should not be an exception. If anything, NFL players should be held to an even higher standard because they are in the public eye. They have the power to influence how people perceive a variety of issues. The NFL also has a responsibility to advocate for the proper handling of social issues because of the power it holds to shape American morality, values and culture.
Goodell acknowledges this in his open letter to the players, stating, “The public response reinforced my belief that the NFL is held to a higher standard and properly so.”
Goodell proves he is serious about this social responsibility, as he outlines increased services the NFL will provide for its players, such as employing staff trained to provide assistance for those at risk of committing domestic assault and training NFL employers to identify risk factors for domestic violence and provide assistance for those who exhibit such risks. Prominent NFL players such as Rice also are likely to be less financially damaged by their choices than average citizens would be and therefore should be punished on the field in addition to any legal consequences they may face.
Background checks are commonplace, with 92 percent of employers performing criminal background checks, according to a 2010 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management. This often impedes employment opportunities for those with criminal records, according to an Aug. 20 Arizona State University study. NFL players should be held to a similar standard. Their contracts should include clauses that invalidate payment or guaranteed employment when they are found guilty of domestic violence offenses. Furthermore, they should be required to pay large fines to organizations that combat domestic violence and serve mandatory community service during their suspensions. This shows the public that despite their fame, players are equally punished for their extremely poor decisions.
The NFL has a responsibility to hold its players to a higher standard because of its influence on American culture. Although it is likely that the NFL would not financially suffer if it decided not to amend the domestic violence regulations after receiving criticism, by doing so the NFL shows that it is compassionate toward an issue that many feel strongly about, securing its strong fan base.