The hurried release of last year's mandatory Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence and Child Abuse training led to a program that many players felt was missing the mark. Based on some of that feedback, the NFL has made some changes to this year's program, which is currently being given to teams during training camp.
Perhaps the biggest, and most obvious, change is in the subject matter itself. Last year's program included sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse. This year child abuse has been removed as its own section and replaced with driving under the influence. The move lends further credence to the charge that the creation of the program last year was a rushed and transparent response to the three major PR disasters the league was facing at the time.
Depending on which individual is presenting the program to each team in person, child abuse may still be covered under domestic violence in the full presentation. But in its current form, there is no official mention of child abuse in this year's accompanying PowerPoint.
The league had made efforts to evolve the program based on feedback. One of the biggest criticisms by players of the program last year was that they felt the in-person tone treated them as perpetrators. They also felt that the program facilitators were not people they could relate to. Both of those issues have been addressed in this year's version of the program.
Unlike last year, where the program was given as quickly as possible by many different male and female experts, this year's facilitators are all male and trained by both the league and A Call To Men, an organization that focuses on educating men and boys in preventing violence.
In addition, the players featured in the program are more relatable to the cause. The DUI section includes a personal video featuring Delanie Walker and Donte Stallworth, both NFL players with personal experience with death due to drunk driving. Last year's program ended with a video by Russell Wilson.
This year's slides have been simplified which allows for easier digestion by the players, but also leaves the door open for each individual presentation to vary in its coverage based on whoever is facilitating for that particular team. In some cases, that variation could lead to differing explanations of the simplified outline.
For instance, the following bullet point appears on both last year's and this year's section of the program focused on sexual assault:
"Consent means indication ‘yes' by words or actions."
It's the "or actions" phrase that poses a potential problem. This program is not just educational, but should also serve to protect players from legal situations. Encouraging them to accept "actions" as a form of consent, especially with partners they aren't familiar with, exposes those players and their partners to potential trouble.
Lisa Friel, a former prosecutor of sex crimes in New York City, is now a senior advisor for the NFL. As a member of the team that created this program, she explains how she encourages the facilitators to discuss the wording.
"The way we explain it is instead of looking for signs that someone is saying no to you, or pushing you away, You should start looking for signs that someone is affirmatively consenting, that is, the signs of somebody saying ‘yes.'"
It is true that in a court of law, actions may be accepted as a form of consent depending on how they're interpreted by the alleged perpetrator as well as the court. It leaves a gray area that fails to protect the victim, and more policies are being written to exclude "actions" as an acceptable form of consent, preferring to educate that the only acceptable form of consent is verbal.
Friel says that the facilitators go into more detail about consenting actions during the in-person presentation, leaving it up to each individual to lay out the ground rules for the players.
The league considers this an evolving program, each year expanding from the year before. Incoming rookies took last year's version during the rookie symposium and will take this year's with their team during training camp, allowing them the benefit of the now missing child abuse section, as well as the new DUI education.
It won't be long until we can find out how players responded to this year's changes. All players on a training camp roster will have taken in the program by the start of the season.