The NFL's domestic violence problem

"This to me is a bigger problem than racism," Edwards said. "This is women, and it cuts across all lines. Domestic violence cuts across ethnic groups and class lines in this country, so is there room for the No. 1 league in this country to do more? Absolutely."

Edwards found the Rice incident particularly troubling because of the reaction from the Ravens. During a May news conference, both Ray and Janay addressed the media. She apologized for her role in the incident, while Rice apologized to his bosses. He never once said he was sorry to Janay. That kind of public showing sends a loud message, Edwards said.

"Now it's not just a noble act for the league to get its act together in terms of domestic violence," Edwards said. "It's now an imperative to get ahead of the curve on this."

And here we are: two games.

If the NFL is trying to tell players it won't tolerate domestic violence, how much of that message is getting through to the rank and file around the NFL? Most of the arrests listed above got a collective shrug from other players and executives. After seeing the Rice video, his boss, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, asked whether maybe a "different story" was going to come out.

Seattle wide receiver Golden Tate said there might be "another side to the story" when asked about Washington, who pled guilty to aggravated assault.

The idea underpinning comments like that is that women are in some way responsible for the violence, even if they are the ones who are physically harmed. It's pretty different from the way people look at someone whose wallet was stolen.

There can be suspicion toward women among pro athletes -- women are often characterized as gold-diggers, financial predators in high heels. It's an us-against-them way of looking at gender relations.

If the NFL wants to show women it cares, growing a spine on domestic violence would send a louder message than pink cleats in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

And, to reiterate, that's not to say that NFL players and coaches don't do anything. Gulliver seems sincere in his attempts to create a respectful working environment that extends beyond the walls of the locker room, even if the decision-makers undercut that message with -- let me say it again -- two games.

There are plenty of coaches and players who contribute to education efforts and fundraisers. In June, Jets quarterback Geno Smith held a football camp that asked parents to bring phones to recycle, with funds from the refurbished phones to be used to benefit domestic violence organizations through Verizon's HopeLine.

"That's a worldwide issue, and it's about the kids," Smith said. "When kids grow up in homes with domestic violence or in broken homes, the key thing for us out here is to give back to the community and allow the kids to get out here amongst their peers and enjoy themselves."

Professional athletes may not be statistically more likely to be arrested for domestic violence than their age cohort in other fields, but maybe that puts a finer point on why these incidents should be taken seriously in such a high-profile community.

What the NFL does now is include anti-domestic violence education in the rookie programs, and former players are often tapped to speak about their experiences or areas of expertise. The NFL said women are in leadership positions within the league, and are key in developing the program.

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