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Thursday, October 02, 2014
The drawbacks of heightened expectations

The NFL has been raked over the coals recently for its (mis)handling of incidents of domestic violence by players. In some ways, this seems unfair, in that we seem to be asking the NFL to do more and do better with domestic violence than anyone else. Domestic abuse is a society-wide problem and other institutions--judiciary, universities, law enforcement--have not shown much more skill in understanding or handling the problem. In any event, why should professional sports leaguesplay any role (much less a special one) on the subject--it is not clear that there is a higher rate of domestic violence among professional athletes (it may depend on what the comparison is) and one could argue that teams and leagues should not care about players' off-field conduct, just as most employers don't care about what their employees do outside of work.

At another level, though, I wonder if it is fair to hold sports to a higher standard because of their history--a history that sports, leagues, and teams readily promote. Baseball regularly touts that it was ahead of society on integration--Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers six years before Brown and two months before President Truman desegregated the military. The NBA has financially propped up the WNBA for almost twenty years, allowing for the longest-running professional teams-sports league. Creating athletic opportunities for women and girls is Title IX's most-visible achievement and what makes possible genuinely popular women's sporting events--University of Connecticut basketball, the US Women's National Soccer Team, etc.). NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has made noise about the NFL being a moral leader--which is laughable (especially with Goodell as its head), but we should be able to take him at his word.

So if sports and leagues have taken the lead in the past on some social issues and if they get much PR mileage out of that past, is it unreasonable to expect them to take the lead on this issue, when they clearly want to be involved? And if they fail so spectacularly, is it unreasonable to criticize them for that failure? Please note that this is a very incomplete thought, but I wanted to throw it out there for consideration and comment.


Interesting question. But why do we (society, media, etc.) make the assumption that disciplining players is the only, or at least the primary, way for a league to "take the lead on this issue, when they clearly want to be involved"? Aren't there much better ways that leagues can take the lead on domestic violence, and that would have a much greater impact than simply how long they decide to suspend a player for it? I like the examples you provided in other contexts in which the league actually did something to get involved and which had a real impact.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 10/02/2014 7:28 AM  

In this context, though, I'm not sure what that alternative would be. How else to take the lead on stopping domestic violence than by refusing to do business with people who engage in domestic violence? Anything else would look hypocritical.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 10/02/2014 5:31 PM  

There are a couple of articles today in USA Today discussing what the alternatives would be in this context:

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 10/03/2014 9:23 AM  

But all of that is meaningless symbolism and rhetoric if the NFL simultaneously misunderstands, mishandles, or ignores domestic violence among its members. Imagine the NFL running PSAs saying "Men, don't hit your significant others; women, don't be afraid to seek help;" meanwhile, there are players in those very games facing domestic violence charges and Roger Goodell's handling of the Ray Rice case (and others) demonstrates why so many women are afraid to come forward.

That would be tone-deaf at best, outrageously hypocritical at worst.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 10/03/2014 1:46 PM  

This may be a better reflection of what the League/Goodell can do:

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 10/03/2014 2:34 PM  

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