October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The Month’s purpose, according to a recent Presidential Proclamation, is to refocus the public on “forg[ing] an America where no one suffers the hurt and hardship that domestic violence causes.”
Prompted in part by this message, the public has once again turned its attention to the most publicized corporate effort to implement a domestic violence policy—that of the National Football League. Last season, the League instituted a spate of new domestic violence initiatives, including efforts to expand education for personnel, promote public awareness, donate to advocacy groups, and institute harsher punishments for employees who commit acts of intimate partner violence.
Now, reports question whether these policies are making a difference. An investigation by Think Progress found that while NFL donations have benefitted certain national non-profits, they have not consistently assisted local organizations, which depend on hometown teams for support. The investigation also questioned whether the NFL is engaging in good faith efforts to investigate players who are alleged to have committed acts of domestic violence. In particular, the article comments that punishment seems to vary based on a player’s skill: “NFL teams have demonstrated that they care a lot more about domestic violence when the player isn’t a star.” The website Refinery29 similarly found disappointing results when it tried to investigate player reactions to domestic violence training. Simply put, the players were unwilling to comment — only 2 out to 100 players responded to the sites inquiries.
Despite well-founded criticism of the League, the NFL actually stands apart from most employers—who simply don’t have domestic violence policies. In other words, the bar is set pretty low. Yet as one of the country’s most recognizable brands, the NFL has an opportunity to raise it. The question is whether, in President Obama’s words, the league is ready to “recommit” this season “to doing everything in [its] power to uphold the basic human right to be free from violence and abuse.” If not, the League will lose the opportunity to lead, and its domestic violence policies will be seen as thinly veiled public relations initiatives.