SXSWorld February 2016


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3 2 S X S W o r l d | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 6 | S X S W. C O M ebruary 14, 2014 wasn't just Valentine's Day for the National Football League. On that date, Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice assaulted his then-fiancée and current wife, Janay Rice (née Palmer), in an Atlantic City, New Jersey hotel elevator. Rice didn't know it then, but his actions that night would lead to major changes in America's relationship with the NFL and its players. Rice was indicted in March 2014 and suspended for two games in July, though at first, he seemed mostly untarnished by his crime. Then in early September, the surveillance video of the attack was leaked to the public, provoking public outcry and leading to Rice's release by the Ravens and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sus- pending him indefinitely. Still, even Goodell's acknowledgement that the league had to take domestic violence more seriously didn't quiet the public and media. To meet the public's demand for transparency and accountability, the NFL made some clear changes (probably while noting that women comprise 45 percent of the league's fan base). The most notable were its development and implementation of a mandatory domestic vio- lence prevention program for players, and the creation of a formal domestic violence policy. But two years after the $10-billion-in-annual-revenue NFL took these steps, reports from domestic violence experts, and from players who have gone through it, suggest the training program still has major flaws. Specifically, said experts with the National Network to End Domestic Violence, interviewed by reporter Jessica Golembewski last September, the training seems too brief to have an impact. And according to several recent articles, as well as NFL Confidential, the recently published memoir of "Johnny Anonymous," a current NFL player, the program message, as delivered by instruc- tors with little training or rapport with players, isn't meaningful enough to matter. The league's domestic violence policy has also left many fans less than happy. For instance, though Greg Hardy's May 2014 well-doc- umented attack on his girlfriend led to his release by the Carolina Panthers that September and a formal 10-game suspension in April 2015, NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson reduced Hardy's sentence to four games, and last season, Hardy was back on the field for the Dallas Cowboys, with a new, one-year contract worth $11.3 million. Regardless of the effectiveness of the NFL's new domestic violence policies and programs, it is clear that the league was swayed by public and media opinion, revealing much about the nature of cultural change. Katie Nolan, host of Fox Sports 1's weekly Garbage Time with Katie Nolan show, has had a major voice in the NFL/domestic violence conversation. She launched Garbage Time last March as a comedic sports and pop culture show, but her rise was linked to her video (on her then-YouTube-based show for Fox) broadcast in the months after the Ray Rice incident. In it, she called for a new conversation, with new (female) partici- pants, on all aspects of the NFL, especially its problems with domestic violence. The widely shared video is cited by many, including The New York Times, as an inflection point in media coverage of the issue. As part of her explanation for why public discomfort with player domestic violence, which wasn't a new issue, reached fever pitch in 2014, Nolan pointed to two shifts in media format. "Historically, the media's job has always been to hold the industry they cover accountable … Sports-only networks are widely helpful for getting player conduct issues spoken about," she says. "A story that maybe before was small and would be mentioned in the broadcast highlights, now gets multiple 24/7 news networks devoted specifi- cally to it. And with social media, we now have access to many more things. Fans start to look at [players] in the context of how they handle themselves off the field." Nolan acknowledged that it has grown difficult to balance the duty to cover a sports league with the need to not seem overly critical. Yet, as a woman covering the league on a major network, Nolan continues to speak out against what she calls the NFL's "indoctrinated and systematic" lenience towards crimes against women. Supporting the idea that diversity within the media —gender, ethnic, racial diver- sity—fosters a new kind of coverage, Nolan says speaking out came down to knowing that "it would be really helpful for a woman to say something about what is happening." As to the dilemma football fans grapple with regarding not only certain players' rap sheets, but also the major health consequences of concussions and other health risks players face, Nolan also offered no easy answer: "It's constantly being talked about. How much are you willing to sacrifice for a game?" And in sympathy with the league and especially the players, the most visible members of an entire culture where violence against women is a problem, Nolan noted the complexity of the subject made it unlikely the issue would soon be resolved: "People [are] making really good points on both sides of the aisle. What are we really expecting from a person who gets paid to play football?" T Katie Nolan will be a panelist at SXsports, taking place March 11-13. Most of the programming will take palce at the Four Seasons Hotel (98 San Jacinto Blvd) with some Featured Sessions being held at the Austin Convention Center. For more details, see On Domestic Violence and Other Issues, the NFL Needs to Hear Female Voices by K atie MatlacK F Ka t ie N ola n W I L L I A M H A U S E R

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