NFL Looks To Training To Prevent Domestic Violence By Players : Shots - Health News It's not violence on the job that makes some pro football players beat their wives or children, psychologists say. It's often childhood experience, fanned by a culture that accepts such behavior.

NFL Looks To Training To Prevent Domestic Violence By Players

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You could be forgiven, in recent weeks, for asking what is it with pro football and domestic abuse. A video showing Baltimore player Ray Rice beating his fiancée was just one of several incidents. And on Friday, League Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted he did not handle Rice's case very well.


ROGER GOODELL: I got it wrong on a number of levels, from the process that I lead to the decision that I reached.

INSKEEP: Goodell says the NFL will now mandate training on preventing domestic abuse, which calls for the league to define the problem. Experts say it is not necessarily the violent nature of the sport that lead some players to be violent off the field. What is key is an overall culture of acceptance. NPR's Laura Starecheski reports.

LAURA STARECHESKI, BYLINE: Domestic violence is disturbingly diverse behavior. Accountants, judges, even clergymen hit their partners. But lately, the question has been why the NFL; especially when the vast majority of NFL players will never abuse their wives, or beat their children.

RICHARD GELLES: Football is not even the most violent sport. Why aren't we hearing about wrestlers or boxers or hockey players? You know the old joke about I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out.

STARECHESKI: Richard Gelles is a professor of social policy at the University of Pennsylvania. He's been researching domestic violence since the 1970s. He's done a lot in sports, but he's also looked into family violence and - the most violent and aggressive occupation there is - combat infantry soldiers, trained to kill an enemy.

GELLES: Looking at the military, they were very worried - when you train people to kill - that the point of the spear would end up being pointed at families.

STARECHESKI: Gelles was brought in to find out if men trained to kill were more likely to beat their wives or hit their kids. He did find that rates of domestic violence in the Army were slightly higher than in the general population.

GELLES: But the most startling finding was that the highest rate of domestic violence in the United States Army was not combat infantry, or Special Forces. It actually was those people who work in supply.

STARECHESKI: Supply - ordering things, receiving them - not the men on the front lines with guns.

GELLES: So the training of people to be violent - and violence is part of your work culture - is not a sufficient explanation for what's going on in the NFL.

STARECHESKI: Gelles says it's actually really hard to train people to be violent. In World War II, only about 30 percent of infantrymen actually fired their weapons. So where do people, who abuse partners and children, learn the behavior? How far should these NFL trainings go to make a difference?

ROWELL HUESMANN: Children who are more harshly punished and beaten, tend to grow up to be more aggressive and violent.

STARECHESKI: Rowell Huesmann is a psychologist at the University of Michigan, who spent his career trying to figure out what makes some people violent.

HUESMANN: Children are great imitators and they're learning - as they're being hit - that this is a way you deal with other people when you want to make them bend to your will - you hit them.

STARECHESKI: Adrian Peterson, the Vikings running back, says his father whipped him as a child. Peterson even chose the same instrument his father used to discipline his own son - a switch cut from a tree. No NFL training can change what players experience as children, but it might help break a cycle of violence from one generation to the next. A shorter-term goal would be addressing the biggest risk factor of all for committing acts of violence - having committed violence before. Researchers say getting started is more likely when you get a message that violence is acceptable. Until very recently, that's the message the NFL has sent.


JACKSON KATZ: You know, millions of boys around the United States have big posters of football players on their wall and they follow the teams. And you can bet that they know what's going on here. They know that this is a scandal.

STARECHESKI: Jackson Katz works with NFL players in a program called MVP, Mentors in Violence Prevention. A training program just like what commissioner Goodell promised to mandate for all NFL players. Katz has worked with the NFL for almost 15 years. But he's only been brought in occasionally.


KATZ: It's never been systematic in the NFL. And we've argued for years that we could do so much more if they wanted us, and if they wanted to make it happen.

STARECHESKI: Katz hasn't gotten a call from the NFL yet about the new mandate. But in order to make a difference in players' behavior, he says the trainings will have to go beyond a one-shot presentation.


KATZ: What we're talking really about here is culture change. We're talking about setting a tone where abusive behavior is seen as completely unacceptable.

STARECHESKI: In the meantime, violence researcher Richard Gelles says that even the delayed reaction to Ray Rice's abuse is progress.

GELLES: 2014 is the first time I have seen a professional athlete really rung up and sanctioned for domestic violence.

STARECHESKI: Gelles reeled off a long list for me of baseball players, basketball players and football players who were not arrested. And who were allowed to keep playing, even after particularly brutal assaults of their wives and girlfriends.

GELLES: Now, what has been private is now becoming public.

STARECHESKI: In the form of YouTube videos - and the cascade of public opinion that follows - something institutions like the NFL can no longer ignore. Laura Starecheski, NPR News.

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