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One incident of domestic abuse is too many — but the NFL doesn’t seem to get that

Giants kicker Josh Brown’s case is the most recent example of ‘pick and choose’ style of player punishment

UPDATE: Sources have reportedly told ESPN, Brown will be moved to the commissioner’s exempt list. Even though the Giants have not cut him, he’s made his last kick for the team, multiple sources told ESPN. More than one source also expressed to ESPN real doubt that Brown ever kicks again in the NFL. Based on a prior arbitration ruling this year, a player can appeal being placed on exempt list but that appears unlikely in this case with Brown.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL acknowledges the importance of early detection and support for survivors by allowing its players to wear pink accessories during the game. This is a nice gesture to women, who contract breast cancer in far greater numbers than men, and who made up at least 45 percent of the NFL viewing population as late as 2014. But this acknowledgment is empty when one considers the message the NFL sends to women when it comes to domestic violence issues concerning its players.

The NFL is currently playing catch-up in response to allegations surrounding New York Giants kicker Josh Brown, who has admitted to abusing his former wife, Molly. Initially Josh Brown was suspended for one game. Now, due to public outcry and additional information that the NFL claims it did not have, Josh Brown has not been allowed to travel to London with the team for its game this weekend.

Domonique Foxworth and Dan Graziano react to Giants coach Ben McAdoo offering his support to Josh Brown after documents revealed Brown admitted he had abused his wife.

After NFL player Ray Rice was captured on hotel elevator videotape in 2014 punching then-fiancée Janay Palmer in the face, rendering her unconscious, the NFL updated its personal conduct policy, hired three domestic violence experts, ran domestic violence public service announcements and conducted hourlong domestic violence education sessions for all 32 teams. However, one wonders whether these are all empty attempts to handle a public relations issue instead of taking the issues of domestic abuse and violence seriously.

There have been at least nine suspensions in the two years since the league’s new domestic violence policy was enacted. But, in most cases, the penalty has been less than the baseline six-game suspension without pay for first-time offenders, in part due to the exception clause that allows “consideration given to mitigating factors” regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault. All too often, this results in lessening of the penalty imposed.

In the case of Josh Brown, the NFL released a statement about the one-game suspension, tacitly blaming Brown’s wife, the victim, by naming her as a mitigating factor. The NFL claimed that lack of information from law enforcement and Molly Brown led to the decision not to impose the full six-game penalty for a first offense. In the newly public police report, his now ex-wife alleged at least 20 other abusive incidents.

However, it appears that the NFL may not have been truthful when it claimed it didn’t know the extent of Josh Brown’s domestic violence. Josh Brown was arrested in May 2015 on a domestic violence charge. But NFL security was called to assist Molly Brown in getting away from her then-husband Josh during Pro Bowl weekend in January 2016. While it’s not clear whether Molly Brown changed hotels or changed rooms within the same hotel, what is clear is that the NFL helped her make this move because of Josh Brown’s allegedly drunken and abusive behavior. That makes two incidents of which the NFL was aware.

Additionally, New York Giants president John Mara admitted in an August news conference that they were aware of the letter Josh Brown had written admitting to abusing his wife, and were comfortable signing him to a $4 million contract anyway. This appears to be a third instance of domestic violence of which the NFL was aware, but only a one-game suspension was meted out.

There is no shortage of examples of the NFL shielding its players when it chooses to do so. One wonders what the three domestic violence experts brought on in 2014 actually do, and whether they will continue to act in a reactionary fashion, instead of taking proactive steps to curtail the amount of domestic violence among its players. If players know that there is little to no penalty for abusive behavior, they will have no incentive to change. The NFL must enforce the policy it voluntarily chose to enact.

The NFL’s shoddy handling of domestic violence issues involving their players sends a horrible message to its fans, especially women. It may also have a chilling effect on women who may now think twice about coming forward with allegations of domestic violence at the hands of NFL players. If the NFL does not enforce its own policy regarding domestic violence despite overwhelming information of multiple incidents, the policy is worthless.

One incident of domestic abuse is too many. Molly Brown alleged there were at least 20 when Josh Brown was arrested in 2015, the NFL helped her change hotel rooms to escape him a year later, and Josh Brown wrote a letter admitting to abusing her that the Giants knew about. In one letter, Josh Brown wrote: “I viewed myself as God basically and she was my slave.” There was also ample evidence in the divorce proceedings between Molly and Josh Brown, something the NFL’s domestic violence experts surely must have known to obtain in furtherance of a full investigation. Yet none of this was enough to institute what is supposed to be a baseline six-game suspension.

The priorities of the NFL and its teams are unacceptable. New York Giants coach Bob McAdoo recently scolded player Odell Beckham Jr. and said he needed to be “less of a distraction to his teammates,” after Beckham slammed his helmet on a net on the sidelines. One wonders how Josh Brown isn’t a distraction since he’s not even traveling to London for this weekend’s game and adjustments will need to be made. Beckham was also chastised by McAdoo for his “lack of focus” after “proposing” to the net during a win last Sunday. It is curious that we haven’t heard similar statements from McAdoo about Josh Brown, Beckham’s teammate.

The NFL must spend more time protecting the families of their players, punishing offenders of its own policy, and ensuring there is a significant decrease in domestic violence incidents. Failure to do so means that women are not being respected and protected and will lead to a decrease in the NFL’s all-important revenue as fans turn away from football, both literally and figuratively.