The public furor over the NFL’s approach to handling domestic violence is reaching a fever pitch. Disgrace and scandals fill the headlines of our daily newspapers and social media. Reporters seem to revel in broadcasting the moral failures of prominent people, especially those connected with professional sports.
The latest apparent violators of the NFL’s domestic abuse policy are Ray Rice (Baltimore Ravens), Greg Hardy (Carolina Panthers), Ray McDonald (San Francisco 49ers), and Adrian Peterson (Minnesota Vikings). Adrian Peterson’s charge for spanking his four-year old son with a switch is not against Texas law for corporal punishment. A great prophet once said, “To spare the rod is to spoil the child” but certainly excessive force applied to the posterior of a child is not appropriate no matter what your philosophy of discipline entails.
The popularity of professional football has brought a great deal of attention to various cultural issues such as: drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence, sexual identity issues, suicide, and anger management. Should a professional football player and the executives associated with the game be expected to maintain a higher standard of conduct than the average worker?
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, and many head coaches suggest that there is an agreed-upon “code of conduct” for the professional athletes and management. I’ve had the privilege of speaking to a number of college and NFL teams about the importance of building and maintaining good character. Some NFL head coaches have asked me to help them with specific “bad boys of the NFL”. It has been an honor to be a consultant and chaplain to the sport for over twenty years. I’ve seen some major improvement in behavior because of the new policies and mentoring that is now part of the NFL. Yet a few bad apples spoil the bunch when it comes to dealing with appropriate behavioral modifications.
How is the NFL doing compared to our society? According to a study conducted in 2010 about 8.6% of our population is convicted of felony crimes compared to about 2.8 % arrests last year among the 1700 players in the NFL. I believe under Goodell’s leadership more fines have been levied, more penalties established, and more policing of the league has happened during any other period in this sport. This commissioner has handled issues both on and off the field. While the jury is out on how he and his office handled the details associate with the Ray Rice domestic violent issue, I don’t believe one dropped pass by the commissioner or his associates should exclude him from performing his duties.
Scripture reminds us, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth”. (Proverbs 22:1) Unfortunately, some athletes and coaches have forgotten this statement. Jesus encouraged His disciples to be of good virtue and to act out of a pure heart. If we are to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14), we need to follow Christ’s teachings.
Let’s endeavor to be the good example of Christ’s character.