The NFL Has Taken a Step in the Right Direction with Its Response to Domestic Violence Cases—Will It Continue to Lead the Way?

Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, says that the NFL is in a unique position to spark real (and much-needed) change in the way our culture responds to domestic violence.

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 2/19/2015, 2:34 p.m.
Over the past year, the words "domestic violence" and "the NFL" have shared a lot of headline space thanks to ...
The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development (Routledge, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-138-02513-4, $46.95, is available for purchase through Routledge, on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and through a number of additional booksellers.

San Francisco, CA (February 2015)—Over the past year, the words "domestic violence" and "the NFL" have shared a lot of headline space thanks to high-profile cases like Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Ray McDonald, and Greg Hardy. And as we know, the NFL has been applauded for its response: suspending, fining, and even terminating players; pledging monetary donations to fight domestic violence; and donating airtime for public service announcements from NO MORE, a coalition against domestic violence (you might recall the chilling 31-second Super Bowl commercial featuring a 911 call to "order a pizza").

According to Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, the NFL's actions are a step in the right direction—but they aren't nearly enough.

"The NFL is in a unique position to influence a huge audience, and it has been given a golden opportunity to set a new standard regarding how to respond to domestic violence," says Klebanov. "The NFL's initial response to the recent cases is the equivalent of a slap on the wrist, which echoes our culture's overall tolerance of domestic violence. While I'm pleased to see the NFL standing against this pervasive problem, I hope it will set a much-needed example by taking a harder line in the future."

Klebanov, whose specialty is child welfare and family violence, says she's constantly shocked by how pervasive and accepted domestic violence is. And as a policy advocate, she also has a unique perspective on how far-reaching the consequences of domestic violence are—especially when it comes to its effects on children.

"Any type of abuse—from severe trauma to more common practices like spanking and leaving babies to cry—can lead to serious long-term damage," Klebanov states. "When children witness or experience domestic violence, their emotional and physical development is adversely impacted. This can—and too often does—influence them throughout their lives as parents, partners, and employees. Until we start to take domestic violence very seriously, this dangerous cycle will continue to cripple families, children, schools, and society in general."

It's worth noting that it isn't only organizations like the NFL that fail to take a hard line on ending domestic violence. Believe it or not, the United States is one of only two members of the United Nations not to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights of children—including "the right to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment." (The other country not to ratify the convention is South Sudan.)

You've heard them before, but as a reminder, here is just a sampling of the frightening facts about domestic violence in American culture:

Domestic violence is much more common than most people realize. In certain years, domestic violence has been shown to be a leading cause of death for women under age 50—at times the leading cause!

Domestic violence is often passed down through the generations. Children who observe domestic violence are much more likely to engage in abusive relationships in their own adulthood.

Individuals who abuse their partners are significantly more likely to be violent toward their children.

Domestic violence is commonly unreported since many victims are psychologically trapped in their own victimization. Victims have frequently observed abuse in their own parents' relationships during childhood, which literally programmed the trauma into their developing brains. This is one of the reasons they find it difficult to leave abusive relationships.

Abusers often threaten, stalk, or even kill victims when victims attempt to leave.

Most violence against women is interpersonal violence from an intimate partner.

Both victims and abusers need serious help and treatment.

"The bottom line is, when it comes to domestic violence, suspensions and donations don't fully solve the problem," Klebanov concludes. "Players involved in domestic violence should be required to engage in intensive domestic violence treatment programs before being permitted to return to the game. A policy that puts the safety of families and future generations before the game is the best way to send the message that the NFL's audiences—especially men and boys—need to hear. I encourage the NFL's leadership to take the lead in changing the way our culture thinks about and responds to domestic violence."

About Marianna Klebanov:

Marianna S. Klebanov, JD, is the coauthor of The Critical Role of Parenting in Human Development. She works as an attorney with a specialty in matters relating to child welfare and family violence. She writes a column for on issues relating to parenting, child abuse prevention, and brain development. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors and on the Executive Committee of Family and Children Services, a large nonprofit organization focusing on mental health services. Klebanov chairs the organization's Program Committee, overseeing the board's relationship with the organization's mental health and counseling programs. She is the legislative liaison to the Board of Supervisors for the Juvenile Justice Commission and serves on the Child Abuse Prevention Council. Klebanov graduated with honors from Berkeley with a bachelor's degree in linguistics and earned her JD from the University of California at Hastings, where she served as a journal editor.

To learn more, please visit