Monday, August 7, 2017
The N.F.L.’s Domestic Violence Policy: Revealing the Limits of an Internalities Approach to Domestic Violence
From Guest blogger, Jamie Abrams:
The National Football League’s (NFL’s) response to domestic violence provides a good example of the limits of internalities and the expansive and transformative power of externalities to apply a framework introduced in my last blog entry. In August 2014, the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new Personal Conduct Policy. The policy was enacted after a high profile case of domestic abuse involving Ray Rice and his then-fiancée. Commissioner Goodell faced harsh criticism for allegations against him ranging from giving Rice an inappropriately light punishment to attempting to cover up the scandal by ignoring the existence of the security camera footage until the media released it. The revised policy stated that assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault involving physical force would be subject to a suspension of six games without pay for the first offense. The suspension would apply regardless of whether the player was formally charged. A second qualifying offense would lead to a lifetime ban from professional football. The NFL sought to ensure a “fair and consistent process for player and employee discipline” that would “set a higher standard.”
The NFL’s response, however, rested entirely on internalities. It depended on the victim coming forward to report the allegations of assault. It added an additional punitive and professional outcome to the existing criminal and civil consequences. In its application, the policy only raised the stakes for the victim in coming forward to report domestic violence against prominent athletes. This approach is inherently limited in its efficacy and insulates the NFL (which is a proxy for the state in this example) from accountability.
When understood in the context of externalities and broader political framings, the NFL could have dramatically reframed its approach in actually using its power as the NFL to change behaviors. The culture of the NFL could have been more closely examined to see the ways in which it acts as a provoker of domestic violence and the ways in which it could better prevent domestic violence. For example, in a highly masculine environment, might the publicity, threatened job loss, and income loss embedded in the NFL policy – particularly when initiated by the victim – actually exacerbate the risk of domestic violence? Might the NFL work to change its culture of masculinity in ways that effectively address the medical, social, and statistical risks of domestic violence that are unique to NFL culture?
Expanding the lens to include externalities offers an insightful contrast to consider what might be missing from an internalities approach. It reveals how the NFL camaraderie and the team atmosphere of the NFL might be leveraged to create positive peer associations and stronger cultural values and beliefs about healthy relationships. It reveals how the NFL might also provide more support for its players who are prior victims of abuse or witnesses of abuse or hold other risk factors. With the power and resources of the NFL expanded to an externalities approach, perhaps stronger lasting change could be achieved.
Guest blogger Professor Jamie Abrams is Associate Professor of Law at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law where she teaches Torts, Family Law, Legislation, and Women and the Law. Her research focuses on reproductive and birthing decision-making, gendered citizenship, legal protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence, and legal education pedagogy. Professor Abrams' most recent work includes Debunking the Myth of Universal Male Privilege, in the University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform, and The Feminist Case for Acknowledging Women’s Acts of Violence in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism