Change the Culture of Domestic Violence & Be a “Vehicle for Social Change.”

No longer can we hide it or act like it doesn’t exist; there IS a domestic violence problem in professional sports leagues, and further more, a crime issue. Domestic violence, by definition, is a PATTERN of behavior which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic context. And as we begin accepting the fact that there is a problem that needs fixed, we face the issue of how… how do we change the culture? How do we educate players and audiences? Better yet…

How do we fix the problem, once and for all?

Domestic Violence in Sports

Taking a look at recent events, we can no longer act like domestic violence isn’t a big deal. But as my #THW colleague Andrew Bensch pointed out,

“there has always been a domestic violence issue in sports… but when something like that is caught on tape, it resonates much stronger… Visuals are hard to forget.”

Professional sports leagues in America have had this issue since 2000, when data began being collected. The National Football League has led the way in arrests and in domestic violence issues. Since 2000, 48% of all violent crime arrests made in the NFL have been for domestic violence which is more than double the average.

In total, the NFL averages 2,466 arrests per 100,000 athletes and the NHL averages just 175.

But Why?

There are many more questions than answers on the topic. Why can’t professional athletes stay out of trouble? There is no solid evidence that can suggest why the arrest numbers are so high on in pro sports. One may point to the “lifestyle of the rich and the famous,” others may say that athletes feel they are above the law… But no matter what the reasons are, it is a problem, and it doesn’t matter whether you play in the NFL or the NHL, until the domestic violence arrests are down as a whole, than all professional leagues are failing: every team owner, every commissioner, every coach, every player and every fan… failing.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has handled the recent Ray Rice scandal egregiously. He’s left fans with more questions than answers and has appeared vulnerable in his ability to make decisions. In response to the Rice situation, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has come forward and taken a “proactive stance” on the issue of domestic violence.

He told media members in Toronto that the NHL is educating it’s players on domestic violence issues and Bettman believes that professional athletes can be a “vehicle for positive social change.”

Gary Bettman
Gary Bettman discussing the issue of domestic violence (Brad Penner-US PRESSWIRE)

I couldn’t agree with Bettman more; He is exactly right. It doesn’t matter what sports league you are a part of, being a professional athlete gives you more of a voice than every other occupation in our society. In order to enact change, athletes must be willing to stand up against their peers and take a stance against the issue. Every league has problems and these domestic issue problems directly impact the culture that we live in.

As young hockey players watch their idols and see Semyon Varlamov being arrested for assault or Claude Giroux being taken away in cuffs because of an incident at a club that was easily avoidable, those kids are then faced with the choice of continuing to support a ‘criminal’ or doing what is right and realizing the fault. As a ten year old, that’s much easier said than done.

Youth Hockey is important to our sport and domestic violence awareness needs to be taught

Domestic Violence Can Be Fixed… But how?

You can state that there are several factors that make domestic violence an ongoing issue in professional sports, but I want to point out two main problems and how I believe that can be fixed. Lack of consistency in punishment and lack of player responsibility.

Roger Goodell admitted to media that there was no plan in place on how to deal with the Ray Rice situation. That’s unacceptable. Gary Bettman is right in being proactive and the NBA and MLB should follow in suit.

Professional sports leagues need to have a plan of action on how to deal with these issues efficiently and sternly. They need to, not only enact, but enforce a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence. There’s no reason Ray Rice should ever play football again in the NFL. He knocked his wife out and although I feel bad for the family and the constant media attention, Rice must be made into an example.

Players must begin holding each other accountable OFF the ice, too. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
Players must begin holding each other accountable OFF the ice, too. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Also, players must begin taking more responsibility for themselves and their teammates. It’s no different than what you teach your kids or coach your players; just because these athletes make millions doesn’t mean they are above the common standard of taking responsibility.

Take a public stance against domestic violence!

When you sign your contract to become a professional hockey player, you are also agreeing to have the international spotlight shined on you until your career is over.

It may not be your duty as a hockey player, but it’s your duty as a human being to do what you can to help another human being. Have we really gotten to a point that mankind won’t stick up for the weak? Silence helps no one, it only encourages the tormentor. And until we reach a point in sports that players begin policing other players (off the ice), then we’ll continue to fail as a league.

With any movement, it takes one to stand up… people will follow and jump onto the cause; no one can actively be FOR domestic violence, can they? It’s never easy to put yourself out there, but what other options do we have? If the issue of domestic violence doesn’t change and continues to become a “social norm,” we’ll only see an increase in victims.

Now is the time to act.

A younger generation is watching the news and listing to ESPN continue to draw out Ray Rice… They may not know what’s right and wrong, and they won’t care what the NFL or NHL commissioner say. They NEED to hear from their idols. The Sidney Crosby’s, the Martin St. Louis’, the Wayne Gretzky’s… These are the gentleman of the sport and they can enact the most change; the can be that vehicle of social change and they can lead the way in doing away with domestic violence.

Educating current players and the youth in our sport is the best way to begin changing the culture for good. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re a fan, a player, a coach, or an innocent bystander, you have a voice and you can use it to begin putting an end to Domestic Violence; let’s use the platform of the sport that we all love to do something good for our countries and for our people.

We must act now.


“It should not have taken camera footage of Ray Rice to stir the proper amount of outrage in us and trigger his firing. And it shouldn’t take a domestic violence scandal involving an NHL player for the league and its players to do more to acknowledge an issue that is pervasive, corrosive and detrimental to us all.” –Adam Proteau, The Hockey News