NFL and Players Must Speak Up, Take Action Against Domestic Violence

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJuly 18, 2014

AP Images

It was last May when a woman in a downtown Charlotte apartment heard a noise in the other room. It was Greg Hardy, the 6'4", 281-pound player for the Carolina Panthers, who once benched 225 pounds 21 times, beating up his girlfriend. 

What the woman said she heard—according to testimony in Hardy's trial, where he was found guilty by a judge of assault and communicating threats—was Hardy slamming his girlfriend against the wall and dragging her across the floor. Then the woman testified hearing Hardy's girlfriend saying: "What are you going to do, break my arm?"

Things would get worse on that horrible night. The accuser testified that Hardy put his hands around her throat. "He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me," the accuser, a 24-year-old cocktail waitress, told the court. "I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said just, 'Do it. Kill me.'"

A judge heard all of the testimony and believed the woman. Hardy will appeal his conviction, and due to a quirky North Carolina law, his appeal can include a jury trial. Yet there is plenty of evidence to show this fact: A huge, powerful NFL player beat the hell out of a cocktail waitress.

And the response from other NFL players?

Nothing. No condemnation. No vocal outrage. Not a damn thing from anyone.

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And that's the problem.

Domestic violence remains one of the NFL's great plagues, something the league has been unable to eradicate. The other issues the NFL faces are formidable, but this one might be the most lasting because almost no one in football speaks out against it.

"Our message to the NFL is that of course the majority of NFL players are not violent against women," Gretchen Shaw, the director of strategic partnerships and projects for National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told Bleacher Report. "But when it comes to NFL players that commit domestic violence, many in the NFL are silent.

"What we would like to see is the nonviolent executives, coaches and players in the NFL, after a case of abuse, condemn the abuser. We want more people in the NFL to say, 'We will not tolerate this.' More people in the NFL need to speak up."

If more players spoke against the creeps and abusers, this problem could potentially be drastically reduced. Public shame and the scorn of your peers goes a long way to ending horrid behavior.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

When Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiancee and dragged her unconscious body out of an elevator, not a single Raven spoke up. Silence.

One player did say something, a lone voice critical of Rice, and it was Brandon Spikes from the Bills. His retort was, well, brilliant, but it was mostly alone.

Also, around the time of Rice's issues, the Donald Sterling controversy was bubbling. NFL players had plenty to say about Sterling.

Players will talk about everything else. Their contracts. Other players' contracts. Concussions. The violence of the sport. Contracts. More contracts. Money.

Brandon Marshall has bravely even spoken intimately about his history of mental illness. This week, Houston running back Arian Foster defended his teammate, Andre Johnson, on his potential holdout. Robert Griffin III expressed concern to The Hollywood Reporter about too many Thursday night games.

They will speak on everything except when a player beats up a woman.

Brandon Meriweather (right) and Brandon Marshall
Brandon Meriweather (right) and Brandon MarshallCharles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

One of the rare exceptions was Washington safety Brandon Meriweather publicly blasting Marshall in October for his domestic violence arrests, saying, via The Associated Press' Joseph White, that "people who beat their girlfriends should be kicked out of the league." Meriweather's words were notable because they were so unusual, but they only came after Marshall called Meriweather a dirty player. 

Privately, players tell me there is an unwritten rule not to speak about another player's legal troubles. I get that. I also know that this isn't just on the players. If somehow Hardy were cut tomorrow, another team would sign him in 4.5 seconds. That's also the problem. Teams aren't held accountable for signing, and keeping, woman-beaters.

Players are still the key. "What the NFL needs to do," Shaw said, "is position itself as an organization that will not tolerate this. The NFL hasn't done that."

Shaw said she and several other groups that fight domestic violence met with the NFL last year. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello confirmed there was a video conference with executives from the NCADV in which they discussed strategies to address domestic violence issues with the league's player-engagement staff.

"We continue to have dialogue with NCADV and others about ways to continue (discussions) regarding this very important social issue," Aiello said. "We have players and teams that publicly support anti-domestic violence programs."

Shaw is correct in saying that most NFL players are not woman-beaters. Most NFL players I know abhor the idea of hitting a woman. It is also true that there are some players who fight domestic abuse.

Jason Witten has stood tall in the fight against domestic abuse.
Jason Witten has stood tall in the fight against domestic abuse.Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Cowboys tight end Jason Witten won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2012 mainly on this issue. His SCOREkeepers program put male mentors in six battered women's shelters across Texas. He started another program that trains high school coaches to educate players on issues with dating violence.

There are other players fighting this fight.

Former Cowboys running back Dominique Ross founded the Miciah Deleston Foundation for Families, Inc., after his daughter, Miciah Deleston, was murdered at the age of 11 by her half-brother. The foundation promotes family-violence prevention to at-risk youth and their families.

The Ravens' Steve Smith has the Steve Smith Family Foundation, which supports interventions to help those who are victims of domestic abuse. Saints coach Sean Payton's Play It Forward Foundation supports children in need, including victims of domestic violence.

Yet there aren't enough voices like those men, whose power is infinitesimal compared to what the NFL could do collectively. The larger issue also is speaking out publicly when these cases happen. It's indisputable that too many players stay silent when domestic abuse occurs.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 29: A.J. Jefferson #24 of the Minnesota Vikings looks on during the second half of the game against the Tennessee Titans on August 29, 2013 at Mall of America Field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (P
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

In November last year, the Vikings' A.J. Jefferson was accused of strangling his girlfriend. Her complaint to police said that "she did not fight back because she was having a hard time breathing and he is a lot bigger than her," per Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press. The accusations were ugly, Jefferson was released by the Vikings, and it was a perfect time for players to take a public stand. None did.

It would have been nice if, after Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington's guilty plea to aggravated assault against his former girlfriend, for which he was sentenced to one-year probation, the team used that moment to talk about the ugliness of domestic violence. It didn't. The Cardinals did, however, publicly blast Washington after he was suspended for a season following violations of the substance-abuse policy.

Beat up a woman, mostly quiet. Smoke some pot, get crushed. 

The NFL isn't the only league in which players mostly stay silent on domestic violence. Floyd Mayweather is a woman-beating miscreant, and fellow boxers say little about it.

But the NFL is the big dog. If it shifted just a small fraction of its resources to domestic violence awareness, it might not only mostly end the problem within its own borders, but it could also go a long way to educating the general public on the issue.

Education is the initial step to eradication. The NFL has that kind of power. Think about the massive amount of attention the league has brought to breast cancer awareness. Sure, the campaign isn't perfect, but its overall objective is an altruistic one.

Imagine dozens of PSAs starring some of the NFL's biggest stars. Hi, I'm Aaron Rodgers, and I want to talk to you about the horrors of domestic violence. A man should never hit a woman.

Add to that a series of seminars and initiatives from a number of NFL stars, and it could change many lives.

The first step is a simple one.

Speak the hell up.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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