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Students Discuss Justice System's Response to Domestic Violence within the NFL


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Are prominent and highly paid professional football players treated differently than others when they commit infractions that would land most people in jail?
Many Columbus School of Law students seemed to think so as they participated in an informal and free-ranging discussion of domestic violence in the NFL during a Nov. 5 brown bag luncheon sponsored by the Student Bar Association and the Sports and Entertainment Law Society.  
Lasting about an hour, the roundtable conversation was open to anyone with an opinion or perspective to contribute. Ably led by 2L Jonathan Thomas, VP of Academic Affairs for the SBA, the forum offered an opportunity for faculty, students, and staff to come together as a community to talk about the legal and societal ramifications of high profile incidents of domestic violence involving professional sports figures.
Two recent examples provided the fulcrum for the discussion: The elevator assault by ex-Baltimore Raven Ray Rice on his then-fiancé; and the admission by suspended Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson that he violently beat his four year-old son. Both players have been sanctioned by the league and faced criminal charges, but in the end neither was sentenced to jail.

Some of the key points expressed by student and faculty participants (in no particular order) include these:
  • Celebrities can rebound from such black marks on their careers in a way that normal citizens cannot, especially if their transgression was not captured on video.
  • It is fairly common for victims of domestic abuse to change their minds about wanting perpetrators of abuse to be punished criminally for their conduct. Without the cooperation of victims, criminal domestic violence cases are more difficult to prosecute.

  • In nearly every state, the ability of victims to extricate themselves from abusive relationships and the capacity of the civil and criminal justice systems to respond to domestic violence would be improved by increased funding.
  • Celebrities can marshal financial and publicity resources to fight back against charges that ordinary citizens lack.
  • Because of the head-trauma suffered by many NFL players during their careers, their mental health may be an issue in some incidences of domestic violence.
  • Children as young as elementary school age would benefit from education about the prevalence of domestic violence.
  • Such cases get outsized attention when they originate among celebrities and professional athletes, but those represent just a tiny fraction of the problem in America.
As one student noted, reducing the incidence of domestic violence starts with changing attitudes.
“Are you more willing to forgive if they’re on your fantasy football team?” he asked. The SBA plans more informal lunch discussions on hot topics in the law in the future.