Amid the controversy and charges of too little, too late hurled toward the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell after publicity involving charges of domestic violence against players, one move has been praised – the announcement this week that the league has named four women to shape new policies on domestic violence and sexual assault.
But while the Black Women’s Roundtable views the step as positive and “appreciates the fact that the NFL has established an advisory group of women,” it also points out what it views as an omission. In a Sept. 16 open letter to Goodell, the roundtable offers words of praise, then states: “However, your lack of inclusion of women of color, especially Black women who are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault; and the fact that over 66% of the NFL players are made up of African Americans is unacceptable.”
The message to the NFL is “you are headed in the right direction, but you have missed the mark,” Melanie L. Campbell told She the People on Wednesday. Campbell heads the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation and is convener of Black Women’s Roundtable, an inter-generational network of women leaders representing black women and girls from across the country. “We want to be supportive and helpful.” Goodell needs to know, she said, that “you have to do it right, and make sure you have a diverse group of women working with you and your team.”
Campbell referenced the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). “What’s different about 20 years later is they will focus on making sure they include cultural competency — there are nuances that matter,” she said. “If you use that standard, then you would seek diversity. … You have to make sure you have women of color represented in your advisory group and have a holistic approach in dealing with new policy change.”
This week brought news of Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens appealing his indefinite suspension by the NFL after the release of video of showing him punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer, and the Minnesota Vikings’ Adrian Peterson being benched, reinstated and then barred from team activities as he faces child abuse charges.
The letter to Goodell quotes the findings of the Black Women’s Roundtable 2014 Report, released in March, which found that black women are the most likely group in America to experience domestic violence. “Further, we are nearly three times as likely to die as a result of domestic violence than white women. And while we are only 8% of the population, we make up 22% of the homicides that result from domestic violence and 29% of all women who are victimized. In fact, domestic violence is the leading causes of death for Black women between the ages of 15 to 35, yet we are less likely than others to seek help when we are abused.
“As a result of the specific circumstances of Black women and the fact that the majority of the players in the NFL are African American, addressing this issue in a culturally competent way requires the inclusion of Black women.” The letter asks for “an emergency meeting with you to share our deep concern and outrage.” Campbell told She the People, “We want to be a part of the solution. We have a history of working with the NFL.”
She the People reached out to the NFL by email on Wednesday and has not received a response.
Among those signing the letter are the Rev. Marcia Dyson of the Women’s Global Initiative; Susan Taylor, editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence Magazine; and Teresa Younger of the Ms. Foundation for Women. The names of several civil rights and other groups the roundtable has been in consultation with are listed in the letter, including the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, National Urban League, National Action Network, National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault and the National African American Clergy Network.
“The issue itself is not just the NFL,” Campbell said. “We have this moment. It’s an opportunity to address the issue of domestic violence, which is such an issue in this country. We have a lot at stake in seeing there has to be a culture shift.”
Campbell said it’s disturbing that younger women are often the victims: “There’s an opportunity to educate. Women are not expendable; black women are not invisible. We have a voice in this.”