In the same month that the NFL seemingly botched its investigation of kicker Josh Brown, league executive vice president Troy Vincent received the Champions of Change award on Thursday from the University of Colorado Denver's Center on Domestic Violence.
The NFL has long been criticized for its handling of domestic violence, but the award for Vincent seems especially untimely on the heels of Brown dominating headlines. The league initially handed the kicker a meager one-game suspension for his 2015 arrest for domestic violence assault.
While Brown’s ex-wife told police the kicker was physically violent with her at least 20 times, including when she was pregnant, the NFL defended the light punishment by explaining a list of challenges the league encountered when trying to investigate Brown.
When additional police documents were released that showed Brown admitting to his abuse, the NFL re-opened its investigation. The New York Giants dragged their feet before finally releasing the kicker. The sheriff in the Brown case also blasted the NFL for blaming police for the investigation and said “they don’t understand how public disclosure works.”
Before Brown, the NFL also drew plenty of criticism for its handling of other cases, including the actions of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. While Vincent may not be the one chiefly to blame for the lax punishments handed down to each player, he has been at the core of the league’s decision-making on player discipline.
Vincent was involved in the NFL rewriting its domestic violence policy following the Ray Rice incident to mandate a minimum six-game suspension for first-time offenders. But Brown fell through the cracks and the NFL offered a flimsy excuse why he didn’t get a six-game suspension.
The league’s mishandling of the Brown incident aside, Vincent has a personal stake in taking a stance on domestic violence after it had a direct impact on his childhood.
“Domestic violence was a way of life in my home growing up,” Vincent said during testimony in a 2014 senate hearing. “As young boys, my brother and I watched helplessly numerous times as our mother was beaten, and we called 911 while she lay unconscious.
“We saw how she struggled to seek help, and find the voice and courage to say ‘no more.’ The sense of fear, powerlessness, and all the complexities that accompany this violence remain very real for me today.”
In a news release announcing award, Vincent said: "The true champions are those who have taken it upon themselves to not stand by, but to make a difference toward ending domestic and sexual violence. Every person who cares, who supports a survivor, or the family of a survivor, who lends a helping hand or says a kind and encouraging word, is a champion of change."
Ultimately though, anybody from the NFL receiving an award for domestic violence prevention seems odd, at best, in the current climate.
"A critical component of the center's mission is to change the aspects of our culture that condone gender based violence," said Barbara Paradiso, director of the university’s program and center on domestic violence. "With leaders like Troy, the NFL has the power to set new norms and effect cultural change around women and violence."
Setting new norms and pushing for cultural change around the issue is what the NFL set out to do in 2014, following Rice’s suspension for domestic violence. Its handling of the Brown situation presents new questions about the sincerity of that effort.