NPR logo Black Women's Groups Meet With NFL On Domestic Violence

Black Women's Groups Meet With NFL On Domestic Violence

Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner, met last week with the National Domestic Violence Hotline. But several black women's organizations said the groups the league is working with to craft its plan to combat domestic violence don't have footholds in black communities — an oversight for a league that is mostly black. Eric Gay/AP hide caption

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Eric Gay/AP

Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner, met last week with the National Domestic Violence Hotline. But several black women's organizations said the groups the league is working with to craft its plan to combat domestic violence don't have footholds in black communities — an oversight for a league that is mostly black.

Eric Gay/AP

The beginning of the NFL's 2014 season has been marked by scandals around players' off-field behavior. But each time the league mustered an official response, it seemed to invite even more criticism — especially in the case of Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back who was seen on surveillance video punching his then-fiancee and knocking her unconscious.

In late August, Roger Goodell, the football league's commissioner, announced several programs meant to reduce domestic violence in the NFL and nationally. But on Sept. 16, the Black Women's Roundtable, a group made up of black women who are civic leaders, requested what they called an emergency meeting with Goodell. They wrote that they were outraged about the recent news surrounding domestic violence and the NFL, but just as concerned about who was left out of the league's plans to tackle it:

"The Black Women's Roundtable appreciates the fact that the NFL has established an advisory group of women to assist in 'development and implementation of the league's policies, resources and outreach on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault.' However, your lack of inclusion of women of color, especially Black women who are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault; and the fact that over 66% of the NFL players are made up of African Americans is unacceptable."

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Last Wednesday, several women from African-American women's organizations met with NFL officials for several hours to discuss. "I think it was a good first step, allowing us to come and share our perspectives," Stephanie Hightower, who heads the Columbus Urban League and attended the meeting, told me. The Roundtable members asked for a follow-up meeting with Goodell in the next few weeks.

The larger issue, Hightower said, is cultural competence. "A lot of these groups [the NFL is consulting] are organizations that women of color aren't engaged in," she said. She said groups like the Urban League should have been consulted because they have more infrastructure in those communities. "This coalition is [made up of] different disciplines and subject matter experts, so we're here to offer our help," she said.

Hightower cited statistics from the Bureau of Justice showing that black women, who make up only 8 percent of the population, made up 22 percent of all the homicides that resulted from domestic violence in 2005.

Meanwhile, there remains substantial argument over whether domestic violence prevention programs like the one put in place by the NFL might even work. NBC News' Tony Dokoupil recently spoke to psychologists and sociologists who said domestic violence prevention programs yield decidedly mixed results.

" 'The technical social science term for this is: Oy,' said Michael Kimmel, a sociologist at Stony Brook University, where he directs the Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities. 'There is very little reliable evidence that says that these programs are uniformly or even partially successful.' ...

"In 2003, for example, the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the federal Justice Department, found that intervention programs have 'little to no impact on reoffending.' They also 'do not change batterers' attitudes.' Even worse, according to an NIJ update in 2009, some programs actually seem to make abusers more likely to abuse."

Still, Hightower said the NFL's outsize profile and the attention paid to the Ray Rice scandal could help change the conversation about intimate partner violence.

"We all know that communities set high standards for being a high-profile athlete — it comes with the territory," she said, noting that she has never seen this much attention or action around the issue. "It's not the NFL's problem, but this issue has risen to the top [because of the NFL]."