By Linda Impagliazzo
Executive Director, Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center
Football. The wait is over. And there's no better example than this October 13-14 weekend, as the New England Pats took on Seattle and Buffalo competed against Arizona.
With the new season of the NFL in full gear, it is difficult not to think about the still-recent domestic violence arrest of Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson. I applaud the Miami Dolphins for terminating his contract as a sign that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL, and I commend others in the league for taking a stand. Two examples are Jason Witten of the Dallas Cowboys and William Gay of the Arizona Cardinals – and former Pittsburgh Steeler.
Many NFL players have experienced the impact of violence in the home themselves and are deeply and detrimentally affected. But these players have had the courage to tell their stories to help others.
Jason Witten: Child Witness
Witten is aware of what it is like to grow up in an abusive home; he remembers his mother leaving a domestic violence situation when he was 11 years old. At the time, his mother and two brothers fled to live with his grandparents. Jason says he was fortunate to have his grandfather as a positive role model who introduced him to football, and he now makes it his mission to help children like him who have witnessed domestic violence.
Witten started The Jason Witten SCORE Foundation which places male mentors in domestic violence shelters. The mentors seek to demonstrate positive male behavior to children in order to break the cycle of violence. He also started a prevention program in high schools in Texas called "Coaching Boys into Men," which trains coaches to educate their players on the dangers of dating violence.
William Gay: Losing A Parent
Another player making a difference is Gay of the Cardinals, who is featured in a video produced by the Women's Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Gay's mother's life was tragically cut short by a man who claimed to have loved her; the video is a moving and courageous account of Will's early life and the role that the homicide of a parent by an intimate partner played in altering his childhood and life. In sharing his own personal tragedy, the audience is left with the sense that Gay relives the pain of his upbringing in order to help others who may be witnessing or experiencing a similar situation.
NFL: Taking a Stand
Apart from individual players, how is the NFL helping to end domestic violence? In an interview with CBSSports.com this past August, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell outlined some of the areas of the the current personal conduct policy that he and the players' union want to put in place, including a section dealing with domestic violence and a clause about players and league employees: anyone "convicted of a domestic violence attack can be subject to fines and suspension." The NFL expects its players and employees to be role models for the many fans, and the idea that domestic violence is part of the league's personal conduct policy is a good demonstration of their commitment.
So, as the football season continues, let's join together with Jason Witten, William Gay and others in the NFL who are working with the community to stop violence against women, and making a difference in the lives of families affected by domestic violence.
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