Ahead Of Super Bowl, Blumenthal Calls On NFL To Clarify, Bolster Commitment To Combatting Domestic Violence

(Hartford, CT) – In a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) today called on the league to clarify the terms of its financial commitment to The National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. He also called on the NFL to consider the ramifications of implementing a plan that bolsters the visibility of such groups via PSAs but does not provide additional resources to the groups to handle the ensuing surge in need for services.

Blumenthal, the earliest and strongest critic of the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident, pressed the league’s Troy Vincent at a December 2, 2014 Commerce Committee hearing on what commitments the NFL would make to help groups on the front lines of the fight against domestic violence. Although Vincent testified that the NFL was prepared to commit $5 million annually for five years to the groups, a January 15 follow-up letter from the league to Blumenthal and Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said some of the funding would be in the form of promotional support, raising questions about the exact nature of the commitment made and testified about before Congress.

“Although I am glad the NFL has recognized the necessity of addressing this issue,  [$5 million annually] is barely a fraction of the financial support needed by organizations that every day provide shelter, counseling, and education across the country,” Blumenthal wrote. “Compared with the $10 million per year that is spent on its Super Bowl halftime show – not to mention the $5 billion the NFL earns each year in television rights – this amount seems terribly insufficient. If the NFL is serious about its commitment to combatting domestic violence, it could contribute many times more. 

“Even at the current level of commitment, when it comes to clear terms for timing and action, the NFL has hedged and dodged. The letter implies that some of the $25 million would be used for promotional support, which may include public service announcements. These supposed 'public service' ads may also be self-serving  - promoting the NFL’s public image as much as raising awareness. Insofar as they raise public awareness, they are likely to substantially increase call volume to the Hotline as well as requests for service without actually bolstering resources for local service providers that struggle every day to help survivors rebuild their lives.”

The full text of Blumenthal’s letter to Commissioner Goodell is below:

January 30, 2015

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

While I appreciate your response of January 15, 2015, I have serious concerns about the National Football League’s (NFL) real commitment to ending a culture of apparent acceptance of domestic violence and sexual assault. I welcomed the testimony from Troy Vincent at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee hearing on December 2, 2014, in which he stated that the NFL would contribute $5 million to The National Domestic Violence Hotline (the Hotline) and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) annually for the next five years.

Although I am glad the NFL has recognized the necessity of addressing this issue,  this amount is barely a fraction of the financial support needed by organizations that every day provide shelter, counseling, and education across the country. Compared with the $10 million per year that is spent on its Super Bowl halftime show – not to mention the $5 billion the NFL earns each year in television rights – this amount seems terribly insufficient. If the NFL is serious about its commitment to combatting domestic violence, it could contribute many times more.

Even at the current level of commitment, when it comes to clear terms for timing and action, the NFL has hedged and dodged. The letter implies that some of the $25 million would be used for promotional support, which may include public service announcements. These supposed “public service” ads may also be self-serving  - promoting the NFL’s public image as much as raising awareness. Insofar as they raise public awareness, they are likely to substantially increase call volume to the Hotline as well as requests for service without actually bolstering resources for local service providers that struggle every day to help survivors rebuild their lives.

The NFL’S failure to pledge resources directly to shelters and other local service providers may be seen rightly by many survivor advocates as a mockery of any real commitment. Indeed, the NFL has a special obligation to support shelters and services provided locally in the areas that have invested financially in NFL teams.

Regardless of financial commitment, the NFL so far has not articulated how it  will ensure that its athletes are genuinely good role models to fans – a step that only the NFL can take towards truly shifting the culture. 

Taken in totality, I believe that the NFL’s handling of its response to public outcry over the league’s role in domestic violence is a clear indication of why additional oversight of professional sports leagues is necessary. I plan to reintroduce the SPORTS Act to make sure that Congress and the public have the ability to periodically and formally review the appropriateness of the antitrust exemptions. At this time, I request a detailed timeline of how the NFL plans to meet its existing commitments and any additional measures for addressing the scourge of domestic violence and sexual assault. Thank you in advance for your cooperation with this request.

Sincerely,

Richard Blumenthal

United States Senate