Monday, September 22, 2014

Encouraging the NFL to Not Fumble the Ball on Domestic Violence

HEADS UP: There has been much prognostication over the last couple of weeks about the alleged incidents of domestic violence coming out of the National Football League. Indeed, much heat but not that much light surrounds the issue. A reasoned voice from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing offers to the NFL a sensible, straightforward roadmap – a route borrowed from Australia's National Rugby League.


public cases of alleged violence against women have once again put the spotlight on an endemic problem not just in football, but in society at large.

Yet, so much of the discussion has focused on the degree of punishment, who received what information when, and which lives will be shattered. Rather than naming and blaming, the NFL (National Football Association), government, commentators and community organizations should focus more on solutions.

Faced with similar cases of violence in its sport, Australia's National Rugby League worked to promote the Federal Government’s National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women campaign.

The slogan is: “The only line you should be crossing is the try line [goal line] – say no to domestic violence.” A number of players became spokespersons on the issue and the campaign continues as a catalyst to further the discussion on a national level and change behaviors. (See video at top).

The Australian national campaign required resources, funding, collaboration – and particularly leadership from within the rugby community – women’s groups and community organizations. Similarly, the NFL should get credit for its pink campaign [NFL Pink – A Crucial Catch] in October when players put on pink shoes, shoelaces and uniforms to raise money for breast cancer research.

But how ironic that the league supports this important cause on one hand yet virtually turns a confused eye to violence against women on the other? Both kill women. This is a watershed moment for the NFL to prove itself.

A nation is watching to see whether the league will act superficially to maintain women’s market share or make a real difference to change behaviors and improve women’s health and safety.

The NFL only needs to reach out to a large community already working to prevent violence against women. At the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, for example, our researchers work in several ways to safeguard women and girls worldwide. There are smartphone apps that warn of ominous relationship signs. The mission of the Domestic Violence Enhanced Visitation Program (DOVE) is to protect women and babies. Yet another program works to empower women caught up in violence in the Congo.

The Johns Hopkins School of Nursing and the entire nursing community stand ready to help the NFL. Nurses are oftentimes the only ones that women feel comfortable reaching out to in a medical setting.

All of us have a responsibility to reject and prevent violence against everyone, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Unfortunately, this is often women and children.

Stopping violence against women will require sustained and multifaceted approaches across society. We all need to challenge not only the attitudes and behaviors that allow violence against women to occur, but also address the factors that support and enable it.

We call on the NFL to lead this important culture change in the United States.

Patricia Davidson, an Australian citizen, is the dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing.

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