An Inside Look at How The NFL Plans To Talk To Teams About Domestic Violence

After weeks of criticism about how he handled the Ray Rice domestic violence case, Roger Goodell has the NFL on track to launch a league-wide education program next week about various forms of abuse. Elsa/Getty Images

NEW YORK -- The cafeteria lights were bright as dusk quickened on an early fall evening earlier this week. Inside the NFL's headquarters, representatives from most of the league's 32 teams watched the final version of a video slide presentation on domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, one that will be rolled out to each of their clubs as soon as next week.

They watched as a month's worth of deadline-paced work flashed on the screen. Subjects included the warning signs of domestic violence, what constitutes consent, and when sexting constitutes sexual assault in what seemed a nod to the allegations against quarterback Brett Favre in 2010.

Eight months after former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punched his then-fiancée Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City elevator, this is the fallout -- and this is the opportunity. The presentation may not be perfect, and the implementation may not be seamless. But it's a solid start as the clock ticks.

"I'd say the last six weeks, there's been a tremendous amount of progress," said Robert Gulliver, the NFL's head of human resources. "When you think about where we are now versus six weeks ago, we've since brought together the best subject matter experts from across the country. We've developed training content. We've developed educational materials. We've trained our owners and now we're training trainers, and we're going to get out to the 32 clubs. So that's all come together literally in a six-week time period."

Dwight Hollier, a former player and a certified professional counselor for the league who will be among those leading these sessions at NFL team facilities, concluded the slides with this message to the club representatives before taking questions.

"The thing that I really want to get out is, we cannot ignore the topic -- we can't do it anymore," said Hollier, who played eight seasons with the Miami Dolphins and one with the Indianapolis Colts. "We have a chance to really engage our clubs, engage our organizations, engage our community in a larger discussion. We can't ignore it anymore, we can't turn our backs. Instead we have a chance to really reach out and give people the assistance that they need to make a change with domestic violence, with sexual assault, with child abuse. When we make that change, that ripple is felt throughout the country.

"But it starts with us and making sure we got our house in order and then we can really make a huge impact far beyond where we are right now. So that challenge? It's on you."

Even though most of the men and women in these sessions will never be involved in a violent act off the field, the NFL has become the face of the issue after the inadequate response to Rice's assault on Palmer, who is now his wife. Many may be wary of another training session, or of being tagged as potential abusers.

But many at the core of this group of presenters and experts also want players and NFL staffers to see themselves as part of the solution in an issue that has too often been ignored.

The league will produce two videos as part of the presentation -- one with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the other with the Seattle Seahawks -- to give players a way to personally connect with the topics. Steelers cornerback William Gay and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson have been outspoken in their efforts against domestic violence.

Representatives in the NFL cafeteria raised good points and suggestions, but it's probably too late to act on them at this time. Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL are in a race to show fans and sponsors that they can handle this crisis, and there will be time to augment the program later because the idea, league officials said, is that this training isn't going away.

Each slide takes a topic and expands on it. There are definitions of consent and child abuse, along with sobering statistics on intimate partner violence. One of those sobering numbers: One-third of all female homicides are committed by an intimate partner.

Part of the education is to recognize key signs of behavior -- excessive jealousy, for example, or isolating a partner from family and friends -- that could be warning signs. That part is called bystander prevention.

The slides will take about 40 minutes and will be used during the one hour each team has set aside for this mid-season training. It's not enough, but it isn't expected to be. This is the beginning of the NFL's new way of doing business, and these slides, or ones like them, will be shown in numerous settings.

Club representatives had questions for Hollier, who helped refine the content. One rep wanted to tailor the presentation for anyone on the team or staff who might have ADHD. One wanted to relay that there are players with vastly different life experiences, and some might have issues with women stemming from their own upbringing. Another wanted to know if they could modify the slides.

The answer to the last one: No. Even though teams like to put their own stamp on things, but because so many players change teams, the NFL is looking for consistency in how this message is delivered. Some representatives seemed uncomfortable with the timing of the rollout and the way it has been communicated, as well as the idea that there was little leeway to tailor it.

The league will send its own educators to teams to deliver the presentation. They will address at least three groups: players and coaches, team staffers, and a group called family and friends.

One club representative suggested asking local law enforcement to attend, with information on the local penalties for domestic assault.

The clubs are able to have one "ambassador" to be a co-presenter, and they can have representatives of approved local domestic violence support groups on hand as a resource for the men and women in the sessions.

Hollier and the other presenters are aware that this material could dredge up painful memories. There will be clinical staff on hand to talk to anyone who may have uncomfortable feelings come up during the session. Anyone comfortable discussing a personal experience with domestic violence will be encouraged to talk about it.

"As we begin to talk about this," Hollier said, "there may be some wounds uncovered."

It may be uncomfortable for the NFL as well but, like Hollier, many are hoping it's the start of profound change.