2 women resign from NFL domestic violence group, calling it a 'fig leaf'

One of the domestic violence experts called the commission a "fig leaf."

June 6, 2018, 2:16 PM

Two female domestic violence experts resigned from the commission created by the National Football League's Players Association, saying their suggestions had been ignored and the change within the organization had been insufficient.

Deborah Epstein, who is the co-director of Georgetown University's Law Center Domestic Violence Clinic, and Susan Else, former president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, both resigned from the NFLPA's commission on domestic violence.

Epstein described her work with the commission and the grievances that prompted her resignation in an op-ed that was published Tuesday in The Washington Post.

"Because I care deeply about violence against women in the NFL and beyond, I can no longer continue to be part of a commission that is essentially a fig leaf," Epstein wrote.

The National Football League's Players Association released a statement in response to the op-ed.

"We respect the decision of Deborah Epstein and Susan Else to resign from our commission. We have implemented many of the commission’s recommendations during the past few years and will continue to provide resources and services to our members," the NFLPA said in a statement to ABC News.

Epstein described her four years working with the group as being "by turns, promising, inspiring and deeply frustrating."

She said the commission was started in a "belated effort to confront the plague of domestic violence" in the league, and the "precipitating event" that led to the commission's formation was the public release of surveillance footage showing then-Ravens player Ray Rice hitting and dragging his then-fiancee in a casino elevator in 2014.

PHOTO: In this May 23, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife, Janay, during a news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md.
In this May 23, 2014, file photo, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, right, speaks alongside his wife, Janay, during a news conference at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md.
Patrick Semansky/AP, FILE

A study by the commission provided recommendations for how to address the issue of domestic violence. Epstein, however, did not disclose specific findings from the group's research in The Washington Post, explaining that she signed a confidentiality agreement at the players' association's insistence.

The study, which she said "made numerous systematic recommendations of concrete steps that would go a long way toward dramatically lowering the risk of domestic violence in professional football," was completed in June 2016. Epstein noted that the commission had only met three times "despite my numerous requests."

"As of our last meeting, the NFLPA had not implemented any of the reforms proposed in our study," she wrote.

A spokesperson for the NFLPA told ABC News that a number of recommendations made by Epstein have been implemented. The recommendations included the hiring of a director of wellness who is a trained clinician, in depth crisis training for player-facing staff, greater emphasis on marriage counseling and enrichment events focused on couples. The spokesperson also said it was Epstein's idea for the study.

The NFL told ABC News later today that they were not aware of any recommendations from the committee Epstein was on or from the NFLPA.

The NFLPA has to lobby the league for any and all suggested changes, and the league has to approve policies before they can be implemented.

Epstein said she gave suggestions for projects that could "help reduce intimate-partner violence in the domain of professional football" but they were ignored.

"My NFLPA contacts would initially greet these ideas with a burst of enthusiasm and an indication of likely implementation, but efforts to follow up would yield nothing in the way of specific plans, and eventually communication would fade into radio silence," she wrote.

She received a one-line response from NFLPA following her resignation.

"The email was short, but its message couldn't have been clearer," she wrote.

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