Football season is well underway for the National Football League, but so far the buzz surrounding the league has been dominated by cases of domestic violence and child abuse rather than highlight reels and early post-season predictions.
After four players were arrested for domestic violence and child abuse within the first three weeks of the season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced new guidelines for dealing with cases of abuse, as well as mandatory training sessions on domestic violence for all teams.
Steps in the right direction, but baby steps nonetheless.
Leagues overseeing all sports and skill levels must develop strict policies for dealing with domestic violence and make it clear that anyone who abuses others will receive a harsh suspension, if not a lifetime ban.
Those who oppose banning athletes convicted of domestic violence offenses may argue that such penalties are too intense and blow incidents out of proportion. However, the rights of the 1.3 million women who, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control, are victims of physical assault by partners each year cannot be disregarded. There is no room for leniency.
The NFL and other sports leagues are in prime positions to have lasting impacts on the prevention of domestic violence. But in order to do so they must first suspend or ban high-profile players such as all-star running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens, who knocked his wife unconcious in a casino elevator earlier this year.
Changes cannot just be made at the professional level; high school and college athletic programs must create new policies regarding domestic violence as well.
With a 2014 survey by the CDC finding that 9 percent of high schoolers in the United States report physical violence in their relationships, high schools must adopt even stricter policies and ban students found guilty of domestic violence from participating in any athletic programs. Allowing such students to continue playing prioritizes their athletics over victims’ needs.
For instance, in 2013, players from the Steubenville High School football team in Ohio made national headlines when they were found guilty of rape.
Now, just over a year later, one of the convicted rapists has returned to the varsity team for the 2014-2015 season.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. To honor the victims, the public must press sports leagues to create strict policies that not only deter athletes from abusing partners, but also send a message that fame will no longer trump justice.