These days almost every day we hear new revelations from the NFL about domestic violence, scandals and cover-ups like Ray Rice beating his fiancee. According to ESPN, there have been 24 reported domestic abuse cases and this is likely just the tip of the iceberg. With Roger Goodell in the hot seat, the NFL is in full disaster recovery mode. The sad thing is that it did NOT have to be that way.

Understand that I love NFL football and have since I was a kid growing up as a Washington Redskins fan in the D.C. area during the 1970s. Back then my heroes were Redskins greats like Sonny Jurgenson and Larry Brown. I also was a Pittsburgh Steelers fan idolizing players like Terry Bradshaw (still a big fan today), Lynn Swann and Franco Harris. I loved the flamboyance of Jurgenson, the bone-crushing hits of the “Steel Curtain”, hating the Cowboys (still do) and the thrill of Super Bowl Sunday. Of course I never thought about domestic abuse, traumatic brain injury or illegal use of steroids. Who did?

Domestic abuse

The most recent poster children for domestic abuse in the NFL are Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice. I love Peterson as a player, and he still may end up being considered the best running back in NFL history. Although I wasn’t there and don’t know how severely he beat his kid, I empathize with the position he’s in.

My father used to whip me with a switch when I was bad, which was a LOT. Although I personally would never hit my 2 boys, I believe that parents have a right to discipline their children – to a point of course. Peterson could have done it much more easily, though. Just turn off the video games and magically watch your discipline problems go away!

Ray Rice, on the other hand, is a different story. The NFL and the Baltimore Ravens had full disclosure about the incident way before TMZ showed the shocking video of Ray Rice punching his fiancee. I suspect this was a pattern with Rice and was done viciously as opposed to Peterson (maybe). Still, the Ravens did basically nothing about it until they were exposed. I suspect that if Rice wasn’t already close to washed up and the Ravens didn’t have a talented backup, then they would have done even less. Now with massive lines to ditch Ray Rice’s #27 jersey, even the Ravens fans have clearly spoken.

The Ravens already had the legacy of Ray Lewis, arguably the best linebacker in history alongside greats like Lawrence Taylor. Still, even Ravens fans would likely admit that Ray has some – how do I put this delicately – “character flaws”. My point is that the Ravens and the NFL should have known that they should hop on this thing right away; before it went to TMZ. Just ask anyone in Hollywood.

NFL players get paid ridiculous money to be strong, aggressive and downright mean on the field. Why then is it so surprising that there is more domestic abuse than gets reported? With due respect to Floyd Mayweather, the “it’s only bad if you get caught and everybody else is doing it” defense shouldn’t stand up in court or in the court of public opinion. Nothing justifies truly beating your wife or children – nothing.

Domestic abuse: How could the NFL do better?

  1. Cut the offenders. Finally the Ravens have cut Ray Rice, as reported in this Mashable post, but they should have done it sooner and they needed to go further.
  2. Get Rice some help. He has a problem and he can be rehabilitated, just like with any other mental illness.
  3. Institute a zero tolerance policy. Send a clear message that domestic abuse will not be tolerated in the NFL. Heed the advice of former NFL coach Herman Edwards and even the aforementioned Ray Lewis on how to deal with this “ugly” problem.
  4. Interview the offender and the victim separately so there is no danger of coercion or intimidation. This is domestic abuse 101.
  5. Listen to the opinions of respected spokespeople who give them good advice. Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted to cut Rice right away but was overruled by Ravens officials who had full disclosure of the incident.
  6. Set up domestic abuse prevention and rehabilitation programs to truly help players rather than slapping them on the wrist and sending them to ineffective “anger management” sessions.
  7. Dramatically increase fines and set mandatory suspension policies so that it REALLY hurts the offending players’ wallets. The NFL has already started by instituting a 6 game suspension for the first offense and a lifetime ban for the second.
  8. Proactively jump on reports of abuse and take concrete steps to end it.
  9. Stop blaming the women. They are the victims and it’s not their fault.
  10. Use this as an opportunity to sponsor existing domestic abuse prevention programs and other charitable efforts in local communities to show that the NFL REALLY cares.
  11. Applaud the NFL players and personnel that come forward saying they have a problem and the ones that undergo successful rehabilitation. Don’t judge. Who knows? Maybe Ray Rice can become a poster child for the success of one of the NFL’s new reforms!
  12. Encourage reforms in the domestic violence laws and prevention programs outside of football by taking the lead. An example would be making the first offense a misdemeanor with a preset fine based on a percentage of net income. That would give offenders a clear monetary incentive not to commit the first offense that’s not subject to interpretation by the courts. It also would give the offenders an opportunity to rehab before facing jail time for repeat offenses.

So, can the NFL do better? The answer is 100% YES. Although they can never stop domestic violence in the NFL completely – no one can – I sincerely hope that the Ravens and the NFL will take the steps listed above for all personnel under their control, not just the players.

It’s important to remember that Roger Goodell is not the problem. He’s the public face of the NFL team owners and as such he has to walk a delicate line. I’m sure that neither Goodell nor the owners condone domestic violence, but someone needs to be held accountable. As NFL fans, we don’t want a puppet in that job.

I think the NFL now has an opportunity to show it can do more to curb domestic abuse on a larger scale and address some of the other problems that have plagued the NFL on Roger Goodell’s watch. They could install a new NFL Commissioner that will do a better job and will be held to a higher standard. All the commercials for the domestic abuse prevention program nomore.org are uncomfortable, they really are a great step in the direction of starting conversations that are difficult to face.

Repeat domestic abuse offenders often get off with minor penalties in our overwhelmed court system. The laws aren’t clear. If there was a concrete monetary penalty as I described above, first offenders would know exactly what they would get – a hit to the wallet. These people would be given a second chance and we wouldn’t add to our already overcrowded jails.

Perhaps the NFL could also lead the charge for larger reforms in domestic violence laws with some help from prominent leaders or celebrities. I believe Guy Kawasaki is a football fan, and he holds a lot of sway on social media – particularly Twitter and Google+. Condoleezza Rice is a conservative and a football fan, so her opinion should “cross party lines”. Also, being a woman and an African American wouldn’t hurt.

How about Richard Branson? Maybe he doesn’t care much about “American football”, but he’s huge on social media and he does care about social issues! His advice would mean a lot here in the States.

Another possibility is spreading the word through social good conversations on social media, like the #2030NOW campaign on Twitter from Mashable. Mashable’s Pete Cashmore has written about this alternative in his post entitled ‘Why Social Good Conversations Are So Important‘.

The bottom line is that we shouldn’t let the Ray Rice incident slip away now that media attention is focused on it. We should use it as an opportunity to suggest ways to curb domestic violence outside of the NFL as well. It wouldn’t be the first (or the last) time social media has been used in a positive way to #changetheworld!

As I approach my 50 birthday, I’ve embarked on a “bucket list” tour of NFL stadiums. I’m looking for suggestions on restaurants, bars and must-see attractions in each city. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what the NFL could do better too, so please leave me a comment if you have a moment. If you have any comments or ideas on additional steps that could be taken to stop domestic violence, then I hope you will leave a comment below.

See you at the game!

Posted by Dan Aldridge

Dan Aldridge is the CEO of Performa Apps, an ERP software consulting firm specializing in Infor LN and Baan. Dan has almost 20 years of ERP implementation experience. He has helped dozens of companies with their ERP software implementations and training including Carrier, Mercedes Benz, Snap-on Tools, Blue Bird, Flextronics and a host of other manufacturing companies. He is a serial entrepreneur and blogger with his new site inforln.com.

You can reach Dan on e-mail at dan(dot)aldridge(at)i-app.com or on his social networks: About.me, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+, Scoop.it, WordPress, Slideshare,Pinterest and Facebook. His company is on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Google+,YouTube, Scoop.it and Slideshare.