Two female experts on domestic violence have resigned from their posts on the NFL Players Association’s commission on domestic violence. Co-director of Georgetown University’s Law Center Domestic Violence Clinic Deborah Epstein and former president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence Susan Else both left the group in May, saying it failed to effect any real change or implement meaningful reform in the NFL.
Epstein discussed her resignation in an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday with the headline ‘I’m done helping the NFL Players Association’s pay lip service to domestic violence prevention”.
I spent the first year enthusiastically attending meetings and helping the commission make connections with the advocacy community. I worked with Lisa Goodman, a Boston College research psychologist with experience working with survivors of intimate-partner violence, to conduct a national study of players’ wives and their suggestions for dealing with family violence in this particular, high-profile community. At the NFLPA’s insistence, we signed a confidentiality agreement that prevents us from publicly discussing our research findings. But we made numerous systematic recommendations of concrete steps that would go a long way toward dramatically lowering the risk of domestic violence in professional football.
That study was completed two years ago, in June 2016. Since then, despite my numerous requests, the commission has met only three times. As of our last meeting, the NFLPA had not implemented any of the reforms proposed in our study.
I also have made several other suggestions for commission projects that could help reduce intimate-partner violence in the domain of professional football. In recent weeks, as I reviewed my correspondence with the players association, a deflating pattern emerged. 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.
Epstein and Else were part of a coalition created to address a mounting domestic violence problem in the league. The group was convened following former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s 2014 arrest for assaulting his then-fiancee (now wife) Janay Rice in an Atlantic City elevator. According to Epstein, the NFLPA has been slow to implement any of the group’s recommendations, fueling frustration and leading to two high-profile departures this week.
In her op-ed, Epstein pointed to the league’s continued signing of players facing allegations of physical violence or sexual assault against women as evidence of an unchanging culture. She singled out the Bengals 2017 drafting of Joe Mixon nearly three years after punching a woman and the Browns drafting of Antonio Callaway, who had faced accusations of sexual assault at Florida, in 2018 as indicators of the league’s unwillingness to embrace actual reform.
The NFLPA noted the departures in an official statement to ABC News.
“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,”
Despite the association’s re-assurances, league officials told ABC they were “not aware of any recommendations from the committee or from the NFLPA.”
The resignations will re-focus a spotlight on the league’s and NFLPA’s efforts to stamp out domestic violence. The league and commissioner Roger Goodell instituted a broad personal conduct policy for players and league personnel in 2014 that has resulted in suspensions over domestic violations incidents, but it’s unclear what impact, if any, the players’ association efforts have had.
“Authorizing a single study, and then burying it through a confidentiality agreement and shelving its recommendations does not constitute meaningful reform,” Epstein wrote. “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.”