NFL Is Living in Stone Age When it Comes to Domestic Violence, Marijuana and Gay Rights

A series of conspicuous incidents have made it clear that domestic violence is an all-too-common issue among NFL players.

Last year Daryl Washington of the Arizona Cardinals broke his ex-girlfriend's collarbone, and just five weeks ago Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy was caught in possession of multiple automatic rifles, assaulting his girlfriend. Last month Baltimore Ravens’ scatback Ray Rice was caught on camera in a casino hitting his girlfriend so hard he knocked her unconscious. The NFL’s penalty for these violent crimes? Brief two or three game suspensions.

On the other hand, last Wednesday, as Salon reported, “the NFL upheld Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon’s full-year suspension, benching him for the entire 2014 season and possibly the 2015 training camp because of a failed drug test. He appealed. It didn’t work. And now Gordon is out for 16 games because he smoked pot (or was around someone who smoked pot).”

While two states have legalized marijuana, 23 states have legalized medical marijuana, and various states and regions have decriminalized it, the NFL hangs onto Nixon-era war on weed policies. The majority of Americans think recreational pot should be legal, and the majority of American medical doctors think it should be legal and studied as a medicine, but the NFL fails to recognize this cultural shift.

As Salon reported, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello “made it clear that the NFL’s position wasn’t changing,” after Colorado and Washington legalized pot last year.

“The NFL’s policy is collectively bargained and will continue to apply in the same manner it has for decades,” he told USA Today. “Marijuana remains prohibited under the NFL substance abuse program.”

As Salon points out, the NFL still has a long way to go to dig itself out of the 1950s and join the rest of us in the 21st century. On top of being reactionary prohibitionists when it comes to pot, the league remains disturbingly homophobic.

"Compare the NFL’s long-standing comfort with all manner of violence to its brow-furrowing about whether an openly gay player would be a 'distraction' on the field," Salon notes.

As Steve Almond, essayist and author of “Against Football,” told Salon, the NFL’s drug policy juxtaposed with its domestic violence policy highlights a serious morality problem.

After an outcry over the league's ridiculously skewed policies, the NFL has taken a small step in the right direction. In a letter to all 32 NFL team owners, commissioner Roger Goodell announced this week that the league has changed its domestic violence policy. Under the new policy, a player will be banned from six games for a first-time offense and for life for a second offense. The policy applies not just to players, but to everyone working for the NFL, including owners and coaches.

While the new domestic violence policy doesn’t address the league’s skewed drug policy, or its backward attitude toward homosexuality, it at least acknowledges the seriousness of partner domestic violence. As it begins to shift one aspect of its culture out of the stone age, perhaps the NFL will take this opportunity to reevaluate the rest of its outdated policies.

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