When It Comes To Domestic Violence, Heat Is Still On For Roger Goodell

Each game this season, the NFL has donated ad space to an anti-domestic violence public service announcement. The ads are subtle, certainly suitable for the family, and won't keep you from enjoying your pizza.

But even after all of the ads and all of the compliments from domestic violence advocates, league commissioner Roger Goodell still remains a target for the league's missteps of the past. On Friday, as he touted the league's efforts to raise awareness around the cause during his annual Super Bowl news conference, Goodell did so just hours after Connecticut senator Richard Blumenthal released a letter written to the commissioner. In the letter, Blumenthal called for the NFL to up its commitment to the issue, and he said that, when examined, the league's financial commitment to the National Domestic Violence Hotline is a bit nebulous.

"Although I am glad the NFL has recognized the necessity of addressing this issue, [$5 million annually] is barely a fraction of the financial support needed by organizations that every day provide shelter, counseling, and education across the country," Blumenthal wrote. "Compared with the $10 million per year that is spent on its Super Bowl halftime show -- not to mention the $5 billion the NFL earns each year in television rights -- this amount seems terribly insufficient. If the NFL is serious about its commitment to combating domestic violence, it could contribute many times more."

Since Congress controls the NFL's non-profit status, the league has to pay attention to comments like those from Blumenthal.

In addition to the Blumenthal letter, an ad from UltraViolet, an unabashedly aggressive anti-sexism advocacy group, began making the rounds on social media this week during the run-up to the Super Bowl. In the 16-second ad, a woman standing on a football field gets trucked by a football player, followed by the phrase "55 NFL abuse cases unanswered" on screen and then the caption #GoodellMustGo. 

UltraViolet would have loved to run its PSA during the Super Bowl itself. But at $4.5 million for a 30-second spot, the group settled for an internet ad buy that the group reports cost "five figures."

"(Super Bowl ads are) extraordinarily expensive," UltraViolet co-founder Shaunna Thomas said. "We're not selling Doritos."

UltraViolet's spots will run on Sports Illustrated's website and The Huffington Post. Sports Illustrated initially rejected the ad, according to UltraViolet. (Full disclosure, ESPN declined to run the spot, based on advertising guidelines.)

The NFL's No More ads have always been very careful not to implicate football players. League sources often reference statistics that indicate players are no more likely to commit a violent act than anyone else in their age cohort.

Compare the tone of the UltraViolet ad with this one, produced by the NFL and No More and which will run during the game. The camera pans a tastefully-decorated home, where signs of violence gradually appear. In the background, a woman can be heard calling 911 and pretending that she is ordering a pizza so as not to alert someone else in the room.

Advocates are nearly unanimous in saying that the No More ads, plus other NFL actions, have been a huge boost to the cause. CEO Judy Kluger of Sanctuary for Families released a statement on Friday saying, "My assessment? The NFL missed the mark in many, many ways. But that doesn't mean they can't rectify those mistakes as they gear up for a new season. Moreover, the NFL inadvertently launched a national dialogue around domestic violence -- a dialogue that we all need to continue."

UltraVIolet, though, has been one of the leading anti-Goodell voices. The group has flown banners behind planes and will have a bus in Phoenix proclaiming that Goodell should go. Thomas said that any leader who was so passive on domestic violence can't be expected to successfully turn the NFL around. 

"This is the ideal time to highlight the NFL's domestic violence problem," Thomas said, "and we believe it's going to continue to be a significant problem for as long as Roger Goodell continues as commissioner."

The NFL is moving on, but the push-pull of positive feedback and criticism remains.

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