Congress urges NFL to remove draft picks from teams that do not “appropriately address” domestic violence

Tuesday, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (Democrat, Hawaii) and U.S. Congresswoman Jackie Speier (Democrat, California) sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell requesting that the nation’s most profitable sports league “provide further clarification on whether the removal of draft picks will be used as a penalty for teams that do not appropriately address domestic violence and sexual assault.”

In the letter, the lawmakers cite “other infractions” by NFL teams in which the consequences were the removal of draft picks.  These included the New England Patriots recording opponents’ signals (Spygate) and the New Orleans Saints paying bonuses to players for injuring opponents (Bountygate).

Infraction?  Domestic violence on par with Spygate and Bountygate? I am flabbergasted and baffled by the comparison.

Domestic violence and sexual assault are not infractions; they are criminal.  Assault, manslaughter and murder are crimes.

Perpetrators of these heinous acts are issues in our society. They are not unique to the NFL or the other sports leagues.  Adjudicating criminals is not the NFL’s domain.  If Ray Rice was employed by Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers or Skadden Arps, the companies would not have be on public trial nor would they face potential penalties.  Are we expecting employers to prevent their employees from committing crimes and monitor them when they are not at work?

The problem is not that the NFL’s punishment for domestic violence or sexual assault is not harsh enough. The problem is that these individuals are not prosecuted and sentenced for their crimes.  We should not look at the video of Ray Rice punching his then fiancée (they are married now) and think, “Why did the NFL not do more? Why were they going to let him play?”

The question should be: “Why did the prosecutor not present this case?”

A victim not pressing charges, should not prevent the prosecutor from moving forward when the evidence is as blatant as the Rice video.  Congress should have a hearing with state attorney generals and state police directors to get answers.  It is hypocritical to condemn the NFL for perceived lax consequences for its employees who commit domestic violence when these same employees are not prosecuted for the crime.

This letter appears to leverage the NFL to grandstand.  If lawmakers truly want to prevent domestic violence and sexual assault, a good start would be more stringent laws and severe punishments for these crimes.  Considering that domestic violence is 2-4 times more common among police families than American families in general*, police departments should be scrutinized more intensely than the NFL.  A letter should be sent to state attorney general offices and state police directors mandating that they “proactively move to prevent and punish domestic violence and sexual assault” or their jobs will be in jeopardy.

The motive for these efforts should be to end domestic violence, not get headlines for chastising the NFL.  Congress can start by acknowledging that domestic violence and sexual assault are not simply company infractions; they are crimes.

Read the full text of the letter below.

Get in the game!

February 24, 2015

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

Thank you for your response to our concerns regarding the National Football League’s (NFL) updated policies related to domestic violence and sexual assault.  We appreciate the efforts that the League has made to address violence, particularly by providing enhanced education and prevention efforts, incorporating domestic violence and sexual assault awareness into the NFL’s public service and charitable giving, and strengthening the League Personal Conduct Policy to include clear steps for disciplinary action.  We respect your efforts to establish this policy with input from multiple stakeholders and your commitment to ensuring that child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, animal abuse, and other violent behaviors are not tolerated.

We urge you to create accountability at all levels of the NFL, particularly among team owners, who have the most direct financial incentives to avoid long-term suspensions and quickly get players back on the field.  In the December 2, 2014, hearing by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, the NFL’s representative Mr. Vincent noted that a potential penalty for teams that do not proactively move to prevent and punish domestic violence and sexual assaults by their employees would be the removal of future draft picks.

The NFL has previously penalized teams by removing draft picks for other infractions, including the 2007 New England Patriots (videotaping opposing team signals) and the 2009-2012 New Orleans Saints (giving non-contract bonuses for injuring opposing team players). We support this potential disciplinary action as a significant indication that the NFL takes these issues very seriously and intends to hold teams responsible for allowing cultures of violence and abuse.

We noted that your January 15, 2015 letter did not address the potential removal of draft picks as a penalty for teams that do not address domestic violence and sexual assaults properly.  Please provide further clarification on whether the removal of draft picks will be used as a penalty for teams that do not appropriately address domestic violence and sexual assault.

Thank you for your attention to this pressing issue.

U.S. Senator

U.S. Representative


*National Center for Women and Policing

Posted on February 25, 2015 at 2:23 pm

Written by

Shavannia Williams

Shavannia is the founder of Heels & Helmets and editor of its e-magazine, She also writes the football column, Gridiron, for the e-magazine. A sports marketing professional with over 13 years of experience, Ms. Williams has worked with the NBA, NCAA, NFL, NHL, and WNBA. As the owner of a marketing firm, Shavannia’s client roster includes: DC Women’s Business Center, NFL Players and United Way NFL Partnership. Her love for football began at The University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, where she worked for Michigan Football and received her B.A. in Sport Management and Communication. She is excited to bring talented women together to provide a resource to help other ladies “join the conversation at the office” and enhance their business relationships. Follow her on twitter @MzGridiron.
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