Sports Violence Against Women

The NFL Missed an Opportunity for Diversity in Forming Its Violence Against Women Advisory Board

National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell announced on Monday the appointment of a four-person advisory board tasked with leading the organization’s reforms in the area of domestic violence and sexual assault. The advisory board will work with leading experts in domestic violence and sexual assault – but, as Black women leaders have noted, the group contains no Black women activists involved in anti-violence organizing.

via Shutterstock
via Shutterstock

Anna Isaacson, who formerly served as the NFL’s Vice President of Community Affairs and Philanthropy, will now function as the new Vice President of Social Responsibility. “In this new role, [Isaacson] will oversee the development of the full range of education, training, and support programs relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, and matters of respect with the goal of accelerating our implementation of the commitments made in my letter of August 28,” Goodell wrote. Also serving as senior advisers to the NFL will be Lisa Friel, former head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office; Jane Randel, the co-founder of NO MORE; and Rita Smith, the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).

In his letter, Goodell laid out six action areas to be further developed by NFL personnel in collaboration with leading domestic violence and sexual assault experts. This week, Goodell said a second group of anti-domestic violence and sexual assault experts will inform how the League executes changes in those six priority areas: Kim Gandy, President of the National Network to End Domestic Violence; former New Jersey Attorney General Peter Harvey; Esta Soler, founder of Futures Without Violence; and Kim Wells of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence will conduct an NFL policy review. Former NFL player Joe Ehrmann of Coach for America, Tony Porter, and A CALL TO MEN will help advise changes to the League’s existing life-skills training.

These appointments create a deep pool of expertise for the NFL to draw from as the League attempts to recover from its mishandling of the Ray Rice investigation – but included no African-American women.

On Tuesday, in an open letter to Commissioner Goodell, the Black Women’s Roundtable, an “intergenerational network of women leaders representing Black women and girls across the country” called attention to the need to further diversify the individuals at the helm of reform.

“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,” the letter read. “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 percent of the NFL players are made up of African Americans is unacceptable.”

In March 2014, the Black Women’s Roundtable found that Black women are the most likely women in America to experience domestic violence. Further, we are nearly three times as likely to die as a result of domestic violence than white women. And while we are only 8 percent of the population, we make up 22 percent of the homicides that result from domestic violence and 29 percent of all women who are victimized. In fact, domestic violence is the leading cause of death for Black women between the ages of 15 to 35, yet we are less likely than others to seek help when we are abused.”

Melanie Campbell, the President and CEO of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and the Convener of the Black Women’s Roundtable said the group was deeply invested in the fight to reauthorize the expanded Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). The Black Women’s Roundtable is made up of extraordinary leaders across industries, including leaders in the area of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Sheilia Umi Hankins, Co-Director of the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community at the University of Minnesota; Rev. Marcia Dyson, CEO and Founder of the Women’s Global Initiative; Susan L. Taylor, Essence Magazine Editor-In-Chief Emeritus, and Founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement; Karma Cottman, Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence; Condencia Brade, Executive Director of the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault are but a few of the Black Women’s Roundtable “braintrust” on the issue gender-based and intimate partner violence, Campbell told the Feminist Newswire.

“When you think about VAWA, there was a big shift… it was updated to reflect this time,” Campbell said. “So if the NFL used [VAWA] as a framework, they would know they’re not quite there yet.” (The latest iteration of VAWA more fully represented the diversity of people impacted by the law. The 2013 reauthorization included expanded protections for Native American women, LGBT individuals, immigrants, and students.)

The Black Women’s Roundtable Convener said one of the group’s immediate recommendations to the NFL is to diversify the four-person advisory group – not simply in terms of race, but also gender and group affiliation, hinting at the League’s move to tap one of their own to lead these reforms. “There’s nothing like having that external advisory input,” Campbell told the Feminist Newswire.

Commissoner Goodell has not formally responded to the Black Women’s Roundtable, but Campbell said they fully expect to meet with NFL executive leadership.

Media Resources: 8/28/14, 9/15/14;  National Coalition on Black Civic Participation 9/16/14; Feminist Majority Press Release 9/12/14

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