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Hooper: NFL can still take a stand against domestic violence

The logo of the National Football League, commonly — and sometimes reverently — referred to as "the shield," continues to get dented and dinged because of how Commissioner Roger Goodell chose to discipline Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

The video of Rice dragging the limp body of his then-fiancee — they have since married — off an elevator in an Atlantic City casino led to his indictment on a third-degree aggravated assault charge. Although he entered a pretrial diversion program and can have his record expunged if he completes the program, most thought the league would send a message with a penalty equal to or greater than the penalties it issues for other off-field infractions.

The NFL's decision to suspend Rice for only two games baffled those troubled by society's ongoing challenges of domestic violence. The leniency granted Rice sent a message that taking performance-enhancing drugs or missteps with abusive substances stand as greater offenses than subjecting a woman to the rage of violence.

At the least, Rice's actions merited an eight-game suspension (half the season). And the fine, which would have been between $1.5 million and $2 million, could have been donated to shelters in NFL cities, with Rice delivering the checks himself.

Sometimes symbolism matters.

Instead, the announcement came across as a slap on the wrist. The public's anger and disappointment remains palpable a week later not because the league condones domestic violence but because it could do more to curb it.

So what becomes of our anger? Do we allow it to evaporate in the heat of the moment, or do we channel it toward a more meaningful reaction?

Men perpetrate the vast majority of gender-based violence, so it comes as no surprise that both the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and the Spring of Tampa Bay have campaigns aimed at engaging men to lead the way in ending the abuse.

The Crisis Center launched "Men Stopping Violence Against Women" in June. The Spring partnered with the Hillsborough County Commission on the Status of Women in January to promote its "Man Up" initiative with a special event featuring Jackson Katz, a renowned expert on the issue.

In both cases, these agencies are imploring us to teach young boys that "becoming a man" doesn't involve activities that degrade or hurt girls or women. They're hoping to provide men with the tools they need to safely confront abusive peers and create peaceful communities for their daughters, wives, sisters, aunts and grandmothers.

Every individual bothered by the Rice decision can lend a hand.

But so too can institutions at the epicenter of male culture. The NFL missed the opportunity to help with these goals with its uneven treatment of the Rice case, sending the wrong message to its legion of fans — men and women.

But it's not too late for the league to boost these noble causes. And maybe our own Tampa Bay Buccaneers could set the tone for the league's other 31 franchises.

The Bucs' community efforts include initiatives for youth, highlighted by the Glazer Family Foundation Vision Mobile and the newer Buccaneers Academies effort designed to encourage students to stay on the right path. The military and cancer awareness also rank as high priorities. By no means are they invisible in their outreach, and the team has supported the Spring as well as St. Petersburg's Community Action Stops Abuse.

But through collaboration, the Bucs could help set a new tone with public service announcements and awareness campaigns. No single organization can be all things to all people, but maybe if the team simply gives these organizations the platform to deliver a positive message, it can help curb an issue that causes far too much suffering and death.

And the NFL could replicate the effort.

A shield can be used to deflect attacks, but it also can be used as a tool to help lead people into a battle worth fighting.

That's all I'm saying.

Hooper: NFL can still take a stand against domestic violence 07/30/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 30, 2014 12:46pm]

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