News Violence

Members of Congress Push for NFL Accountability on Domestic Violence

Emily Crockett

With two separate letters sent to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and an upcoming hearing in the House, members of Congress are pushing to hold the NFL accountable for its controversial response to former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée.

Read more about intimate partner violence and the Ray Rice case here.

With two separate letters sent to National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell and an upcoming hearing in the House, members of Congress are pushing to hold the NFL accountable for its controversial response to former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then fiancée.

Rice was suspended for two games for the assault. But after video surfaced showing him punching Janay Palmer, he was cut from the Ravens’ roster, and the NFL announced a policy change with stricter penalties for domestic violence perpetrators. The NFL also suspended Rice indefinitely.

That policy change wasn’t enough for a group of 16 female Democratic senators, who sent a letter Thursday to Goodell demanding a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.

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A player banned after a second violent offense can still apply for reinstatement after a year, which the senators said was unacceptable. “If you violently assault a woman, you shouldn’t get a second chance to play football in the NFL,” the letter said.

Every female Democratic senator except Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Mary Landrieu (D-LA) signed the letter, and they were joined by two of the four female Republican senators, Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME). 

A dozen Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee also sent a letter to Goodell Wednesday, demanding transparency into reviews of potential misconduct on the NFL’s part. The letter noted that, for instance, while Goodell said that the NFL had asked for the video but not been given the opportunity to view it, the public still hasn’t been informed of further details about how, in what context, and of whom those requests were made. 

Both letters noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark piece of legislation that funds and coordinates legal and victim services responses to domestic violence, sex dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is planning to hold a hearing to take a comprehensive look at the NFL’s internal policies and processes, which Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) called “largely inconsistent and opaque.”

Committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-MD) agreed to hold the hearing at Speier’s urging. 

The oversight committee hearing will investigate the NFL’s policies on domestic violence as well as other issues like performance-enhancing drugs, the impact of traumatic brain injury from concussions on players later in life, and the NFL’s status as a tax-exempt organization.

The National Organization for Women has already called for Goodell’s resignation. The commissioner faced even more intense scrutiny this week after the Associated Press reported that the NFL was actually sent the video of Rice’s violent assault three months ago, even though NFL officials have said they only saw the video when TMZ made it public. 

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