When it comes to the NFL, the media treats allegations of domestic violence as if they were as rare as Bigfoot. In reality, however, incidents of domestic violence in the United States are about as unusual as squirrel sightings. In other words, domestic violence is commonplace.
This weekend, news broke that there is video evidence of Johnny Manziel's alleged attack on his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley. Manziel has not been charged with any crime, but his ex-girlfriend claims that he struck her so hard that he ruptured her eardrum. That news generated sensational coverage via ESPN and many other major news outlets for a few days at the beginning of January until Cam Newton's post-Super Bowl sulking and 2016 draft prospects drew more coverage and interest.
If the video were released, however, there would have been a media frenzy akin to the drama that played out after the release of the video of Ray Rice clocking his then-fiance in an elevator. It shouldn't take a video to draw outrage, and it shouldn't take a video for the NFL to take action.
Johnny Manziel was out of control before these most recent allegations surfaced. On October 12, Manziel was involved in another incident involving his then-girlfriend. The NFL claimed there was insufficient evidence, and at that time, his team declined to take meaningful action against their quarterback. The Avon police concurred, and also failed to take action, even though Crowley was heard saying, "I'm in fear of my life" via law enforcement's DashCam footage.
Eventually, the Cleveland Browns benched Manziel. The straw that broke the camel's back? Partying in Las Vegas. Had the Browns and the NFL intervened sooner, taking seriously the allegations that Manziel had harmed his partner and that she feared for her life, could the February incident been avoided?
While the league is not responsible for managing the behavior and image of its athletes, they had enough information in October to intervene. The league does not require a criminal conviction to discipline a player under the personal conduct policy. Teams also have more discretion, as do employers from a variety of industries nationwide. The NFL and the Browns both declined to intervene after the October 12 incident, even though they had the power to do so. After all, the Browns disciplined Manziel for alleged partying in Vegas, an infraction much less worrisome than the alleged assault on his then-girlfriend.
There will be a media firestorm if the video of the February domestic violence incident is released, but there should have been a firestorm even without video evidence. The shock and outrage that has accompanied the allegations of domestic violence against Johnny Manziel are misplaced. There should be shock and outrage about the frequency of such crimes in our own neighborhoods and homes.
The NFL is a profit-generating machine. Negative publicity over domestic violence and other personal conduct infractions does not hurt the league's bottom line. Still, the league and the NFLPA should consider revisiting the personal conduct policy. There is something wrong with a league that suspends players for marijuana use while ignoring extremely violent and misogynistic behavior on the part of its star players. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon has endured an extremely lengthy suspension for drug use while his teammate, Manziel, continued to engage in behavior that wasn't just self-destructive but also ended up harming-- literally, physically-- another person.
Unfortunately the NFL's response (or lack of response) to the October incident is common. Scores of women are abused, and very few cross paths with law enforcement, normalizing and excusing the abuse. Manziel did cross paths with law enforcement, and he was on the radar of both the Cleveland Browns and the NFL. It is inexcusable that all three entities-- his team, the league, and the law--- found no way to intervene to protect Manziel's then-partner and help Manziel himself.
We can feign outrage about the NFL's complacency and Manziel's most recent incident with the law. That exact situation, however, plays out in houses across the country daily, even hourly. Manziel is not an aberration, and his actions aren't indicative of a problem that is exclusive to the NFL. The time to be outraged is now, not when a video is released, and not just because a famous NFL quarterback is the alleged perpetrator.