The NFL is trying its damndest to not be considered the league that protects domestic abusers—and it’s pulling out all the stops for its biggest night of the year.
On Tuesday, the NFL released its PSA to air during a Super Bowl commercial break, the most hallowed of timeslots in American advertising. The PSA is nothing short of chilling: A woman’s voice is heard calling 911 before she switches to pretending to order a pizza. Shots of unmade beds, dirty dishes, and a crack in the wall are the backdrop to her slightly shaky voice. It closes with the words: “When it’s hard to talk, it’s up to us to listen.”
To give credit where credit is due, the PSA is remarkably nuanced and insightful in its depiction of domestic abuse, an accomplishment that is all the more commendable considering it is packaged in form of a 60-second commercial. The NFL is also donating about nine million dollars of its airtime to this PSA which it created through its internal ad agency at no extra charge, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Instead of the array of sexist, cheesy, and simply predictable Super Bowl ads, this one may actually provide an important lesson about domestic abuse to tens of millions of Americans watching at home.
But is the PSA a sign that the NFL is actually more committed to responding to domestic abuse in the long-term? Sure, it is a cut above the NFL’s selling of pink-ribboned merchandise in the guise of convincing us the league loves women.
However, it is also a much-needed PR move in undoing a history of sweeping “hundreds and hundreds” of domestic abuse cases under the rug, as former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo claimed the league has done.
It is the latest in a series of league decisions that appear to be as much about saving face as making concrete changes. Following the Ray Rice scandal, Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed three domestic abuse experts (all of whom are women) to help guide the league’s policies -- and those policies were woefully in need of reform.
Up until a few months ago, there were longer suspensions for players caught smoking pot than beating their girlfriends. Goodell also recently admitted that suspending Rice for only two games was a mistake. In a letter to all NFL team owners, he wrote: “I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better.”
But will he and the NFL actually live up to their new lofty ideals? It’s not the NFL’s job to criminally prosecute its players’ actions, but it does have a responsibility to issue punishments that fit the offenses and, at the very least, not ignore its employees’ abhorrent behavior until TMZ leaks video of it.