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NFL Proposes Plan To Stop Domestic Violence By Its Players

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're two weeks into the NFL season, and much of the focus is still not on football. There was all the controversy around former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and the video showing him assault his then-fiancee in an elevator. Now two more players are facing big charges of abuse, and the NFL is facing more questions. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: If the definition of embattled includes fending off pointed questions all at once from a horde of skeptical reporters, then Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was embattled yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTERS: (Crosstalk).

RICK SPEILMAN: Whoa, whoa, whoa.

GOLDMAN: Spielman faced the horde after the Vikings announced they were reinstating star running back Adrian Peterson. Three days earlier, the Vikings benched Peterson after he was charged with injuring his 4-year-old son while disciplining him with a tree branch. Peterson called it a whooping, the kind he used to get as a kid growing up in Texas. A doctor who examined the boy said in a police report the open wounds went beyond discipline to child abuse.

When Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf announced Peterson's reinstatement they said it followed significant thought, discussion and consideration. It also followed Minnesota's 30-to-7 loss Sunday to the New England Patriots, and one reporter yesterday asked Spielman if that's the connection.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is this all about a game? Winning a game?

SPEILMAN: It has nothing to do with that; it has to do with the information that we have gathered.

GOLDMAN: But in a statement last night, long after Spielman's press conference, the Vikings said the information they've gathered includes another child abuse allegation against Peterson, one in which authorities took no action however. Peterson released his own statement yesterday saying, I'm not a perfect parent, but I am without a doubt not a child abuser.

The legal process will decide that, and the Vikings feel Peterson should practice and play during that process. That's what the Carolina Panthers felt with defensive lineman Greg Hardy, but he practiced and played after being found guilty of abusing and threatening his girlfriend. An uproar built this past Sunday, when right before the Panthers played, head coach Ron Rivera deactivated Hardy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RON RIVERA: It's a very serious issue. I really appreciate if we all treat it with dignity and understand what's going on and let the process take care of itself as we go forward.

GOLDMAN: Hardy is appealing his conviction. Despite Rivera's plea, many don't understand the seemingly haphazard way the teams discipline their players. Crisis management expert Steven Fink says one of the problems is an apparent lack of guidance from on high.

STEVEN FINK: There doesn't seem to be any clear-cut instructions from the NFL. There's no uniformity in punishments.

GOLDMAN: Fink says it's usually best to remove from the workplace an employee in trouble with the law while the judicial process plays out. He thinks the NFL should enact the same policy even though a star player is critical to the success of the team and the business.

FINK: I think that's the only thing that's going to make these NFL players stop acts of domestic violence.

GOLDMAN: Embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has proposed a comprehensive plan to stop domestic violence by his players. Yesterday he introduced, in a letter to owners, four women who will help guide the plan. One of the organizations that'll play a role is the National Network to End Domestic Violence. Cindy Southworth, a vice president, is cautiously optimistic.

CINDY SOUTHWORTH: Naming people to a panel, naming organizations that can help advise is lovely. But we really want to see the NFL put their money, their energy, their time and their visibility, their megaphone forward and help change the culture.

GOLDMAN: But first the NFL must deal with the messes at hand, which now include a sponsor boycott. The Radisson hotel chain announced last night it's suspending its sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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