Can the NFL Commitment toward Ending Sexual Violence Help Undo What the League Never Did?

Print Share on LinkedIn More

June 28, 2016; USA Today

As fans anxiously await the arrival of the 2016 football season, the National Football League is making use of its time off this summer, announcing earlier this week $10 million in funding toward sexual violence prevention efforts. News of the gift, first detailed by USA Today, has resulted in mixed emotions. Some are applauding the League for investing in solutions to problems that are all too familiar to its sport. Others are quick to consider the pledge a PR cover-up of a bigger issue deeply rooted in the culture of professional sports, and particularly the NFL.

The NFL has partnered with Raliance, a newly formed coalition of three sexual violence awareness and prevention organizations, including the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. The Coalition will act as a liaison between the League and the beneficiary organizations. The first phase of the $10 million multiyear commitment will begin next month. The initial 27 grants of $50,000 each will be awarded by Raliance to organizations throughout the United States and one in Guam.

So let’s just get the obvious grumble out of the way. The NFL spending $10 million is about proportionate a ratio as the cost of an average football fan buying a bag of chips and dip before the big game (and with the chips being on sale). The NFL reported 2013 revenue of just under $300 million, assets of almost $1.5 billion, and its Commissioner, Roger Goddell, received $34 million in compensation. A 2015 Business Insider article estimated that the 32 NFL franchises are worth about $63 billion. While it may be the thought that counts, the League’s gift isn’t, shall we say, sacrificial.

However, the issue of sexual and domestic violence, and its relevance within the NFL, is what’s really at play here. Headlines of allegations of sexual and physical assault, including domestic violence incidences and rape convictions and the League’s choice to sit on the sidelines throughout it all have put the professional sport and its executives at the forefront of a national debate about the culture of professional football and what acts are condoned and swept under the rug for the sake of profit and victories on the gridiron.

This isn’t the first time the NFL has attempted to remedy its own misconduct with participation in some sort of publicly spotlighted initiative. Just two years ago, a handful of NFL players teamed up with NO MORE—an initiative to raise awareness and engage bystanders around ending domestic violence—in a short-lived PSA campaign aired during football broadcasts. The PSA declared “NO MORE” common excuses given on behalf of those responsible for the sexual and physical assault. A spinoff PSA during the same campaign featured select players exhaling deeply, seemingly struggling to find the right words to say but ultimately remaining silent, symbolizing how hard it can be to talk about domestic violence (the underlying message being the importance of not staying quiet—a lesson that apparently was not heeded by the NFL on several occasions).

But now that the NFL is attempting to let its money do the talking, a central question arises: is the recent pledge announcement a genuine step in the right direction toward a complete culture shift within the league itself? Raliance’s ultimate goal is to put an end to sexual violence in the United States in one generation, and according to the NFL’s senior vice president for social responsibility, Anna Isaacson, the League has what it takes to get them there:

What I can’t stress enough is the potential for this progress and how excited we are to be standing behind these organizations because their goals are so lofty and this is such a huge moment in sexual violence. To be able to use these moments and actually make real change, it’s something that we really believe in.

Regardless of whether the public considers the NFL’s philanthropic commitment yet another PR stunt, the League’s strategic partnership with the Raliance coalition and support of related sexual violence organizations is perhaps the biggest and best step yet that it has taken since stories of player misconduct began blanketing the front pages. In this scenario specifically, the National Football League is notorious for doing too little—or nothing at all—too late. Let’s hope the NFL’s gift is the start of a new kind of approach tackling issues of sexual and domestic violence.—Lindsay Walker