“I simply cannot continue to be part of a body that exists in name only.”
Those were the words of Deborah Epstein, professor of law and a domestic violence expert, as she and Susan Else, former president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, resigned from their posts on the NFL Players Association’s commission on domestic violence on May 23.
“My resignation brought to an end a nearly four-year association with the NFLPA that was, by turns, promising, inspiring and deeply frustrating. The commission was formed as part of the sport’s belated effort to confront the plague of domestic violence in the National Football,” wrote Epstein in a Washington Post opinion piece June 5.
It comes as no surprise the “plague of domestic violence” still infects the big leagues — hiding within the long shadows cast by the guts, glory, and fame of the pros.
This same plague — termed appropriately the “Weinstein Effect” after the October 17 revelations of the widespread sexual abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein hit newsstands — is deeply rooted in Hollywood and our entire culture.
Hell, some of the biggest names in sports history have pleaded guilty to charges of domestic violence: Floyd Mayweather, Jr in 2010; Randy Moss in 2008, Jim Brown in 1986, those charges were later dropped; Jose Canseco in 1988 and ’97; Jason Kidd in 2004; Manny Ramirez in 2011.
The list keeps going from there, across all major leagues.
Following the public court of opinion’s ruling, post-headline press conferences filled with tears, lengthy apologies, and requests for privacy take place; statements condemning players’ conduct off the field by league and team officials are published; and the promises found within every press release to address the issue internally never amount to much — besides giving the public what it needed to hear.
Then came 2014. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on security camera footage brutally assaulting his then-fiancee (now wife) Jannay Rice in an Atlantic City elevator.
That was it.
The penultimate moment, forever captured, that pushed the NFL and Players Association to act — well…pay lip service anyway.
The NFL Players Associations’ domestic violence commission was formed shortly after. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t seem players are learning to keep their hands to themselves, though.
In 2017 five NFL players were arrested for domestic incidents, and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Reuben Foster and Oakland Linebacker Aldon Smith were arrested for domestic violence. The charges against Foster were later dropped.
And you don’t have to look too far back to see how NFL teams still don’t give a damn about the issue.
A first-round pick in the 2017 draft was facing an active rape investigation. A second-round pick was caught on video punching a woman and breaking a few bones in her face. A third-round pick was accused of viciously dragging his girlfriend across the floor, a month before the draft. A fourth-round pick was charged twice with assault against his children’s mother. A sixth-round pick was charged with beating a woman outside a bar, knocking her unconscious and knocking out a tooth, one week before the draft.
Those picks where: Gareon Conley, Joe Mixon, Dede Westbrook, Jourdan Lewis, and Caleb Brantley…in case you were wondering.
Somethings are just too good to be true.
The reality is the NFL Players’ association can’t set or enforce league-wide rules without negotiating with the NFL — during union contract negotiations would be a good starting point — but they can and should address the issue internally with their union members.
According to Epstein: “We wrote a study with concrete implementable recommendations and we gave it to the NFL two years ago… The NFL has not implemented any of those suggestions. They’re sitting gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.”
While the NFL Players Association took the stand defending their track record, and reassuring the public that many of the policy proposals were implemented. League officials told ABC News that they were “not aware of any recommendations from the committee or from the NFLPA.”
These two high profile resignations will assuredly shine a brighter light on the NFL and players associations’ commitment to tossing out domestic violence from their ranks.
Leaving us with one simple question: In the #MeToo Era, that continues to bring down some of the scummiest men in power, where do the four major leagues and players associations rank when it comes to domestic violence policies and discipline?
Number 4: Hockey
NHL Policy: None.
The National Hockey League makes up its domestic violence policy as it goes, handing issues on “case by case” basis. The furthest the league has gone in addressing the issue was holding “hour-long educational sessions on sexual assault, sexual harassment, and domestic violence with outside professionals” over a two month period in 2016. The training was devolved through cooperation between the NHL and NHL Players Association.
NHLPA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement: Found in Article 18-A (pg 144 out of 540) “Commissioner Discipline for Off-Ice Conduct,” broadly — and I mean broadly — lays out the disciplinary procedure for conduct off-season or off-ice, but does not go into specifics as to what conduct would lead to discipline.
The NHL’s commitment to addressing and ending domestic violence will be tested once Ex-Kings player Slava Voynov’s league suspension expires. Voynov, released after a two-month jail sentence for domestic violence, had his six-year, $25 million contract terminated by the team, and was later detained and sent back to Russia by U.S Customs. None of that stopped him from playing in this year’s Olympic Games as an OAR (Olympic Athlete for Russia).
During the games, the assault was downplayed by NBC analyst Mike Millbury — no surprise there.
“This guy was a special player,” Milbury said, “and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenseman.”
Compare that to what Marta Varlamova, Voynov’s spouse, said in 2014:”My blood, was all over the bedroom…And it’s not the first time.”
Number 3: Football
NFL Policy: Expectations and Standards of Conduct
It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful. Players convicted of a crime or subject to a disposition of a criminal proceeding (as defined in this Policy) are subject to discipline. But even if the conduct does not result in a criminal conviction…..
If a player(s) are suspected of violating the NFL code of conduct they will be offered therapy, evaluation, and counselling services. League officials with conduct an investigation, informing the NFLPA of such, may choose to suspend players, with pay, and may ultimately be disciplined. Any discipline imposed will be at the discretion of the NFL Commissioner.
NFL Players Association Collective Bargaining Agreement:
No mention of domestic violence was found within the collective bargaining agreements’ 365 pages. Check out Article 42 “CLUB DISCIPLINE” Section 1 (xv), and ARTICLE 46 COMMISSIONER DISCIPLINE.
Number 2: NBA
The National Basketball Association and Players Associations have a joint domestic abuse policy cemented in their collective bargaining agreement: Section 16. Joint NBA/NBPA Policy on Domestic Violence, Sexual
Number 1: MLB
Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have a joint domestic violence policy in their collective bargaining agreement, too: Attachment 52: Joint Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Abuse Policy
Under the policy, the MLB Commissioner has the authority to decide on the appropriate discipline, with no minimum or maximum penalty under the policy. Commissioner Manfred handed down the longest suspension (82 games) in 2016 against Atlanta Braves outfielder Hector Olivera for violating the domestic violence policy.
There you have it.
Baseball and basketball come out on top when it comes to addressing issues of domestic violence — at least on paper — leaving football and hockey with much to think about, and several steps left to take.
Of course, while words, promises, and policies are all well and good, the big leagues and players’ associations are responsible for taking real, pragmatic steps in addressing violence, and creating a long-lasting culture of accountability on and off the field. (Remember: a union is only as strong as its weakest member.)
As far as us fans…it’s up to us to stop turning a blind eye to those abhorrent domestic abuse headlines, and hold our teams to a higher standard. Team loyalty is one thing, but not at the expense of another human beings safety and well being.
Like I’ve asked myself before: where do our sports priorities lie — with winning the game, or addressing a chronic widespread issue within the pros?
Sadly… I always end up with the same answer: Winning.
It’s about time we change that, don’t you think?