Using Culture Change to Prevent Domestic Violence in the NFL

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During his amazing talk on the epidemiology of violence at Dent the Future 2014, Dr. Gary Slutkin said (and I paraphrase) that one of the key determining factors in whether an individual will commit a violent act is whether or not that person thinks their peer group will find the violent act acceptable. Slutkin’s work is showing that violence spreads just like an epidemic, with cultural attitudes about violent behavior as the key vector for predicting when and where violence will occur.

In the aftermath of the NFL’s admission that it mishandled disciplinary action for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in the wake of his brutal assault on his then-fiancé; the organization has announced that it will start offering mandatory trainings for players and staff in the hopes of changing the culture towards domestic violence within professional football:

[NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell apologized for his role in the NFL’s handling of the matter.

He also vowed that the NFL will mandate trainings on preventing abuse for all players and staff. What the trainings will entail remains to be seen. But researchers say that to truly cut back on violence among players, the NFL should address at least one major risk factor: a culture of acceptance in professional sports.

“What we’re talking about here is culture change,” [violence prevention educator Jason] Katz says. “We’re talking about setting a tone where abusive behavior is seen as completely unacceptable.”

We shall have to wait and see whether these trainings will curb the problem of NFL players beating up their partners; but even the notion that the step is needed is in line with what we know about intervening in violence.

I plan to follow up with Dr. Slutkin and ask for his take on this.

Image: a doctored CoverGirl ad that went viral in the wake of the revelations about Rice’s domestic violence history.

Dent the Future is a conference series that tackles the art and discipline of visionary leadership. The next Dent The Future conference is coming up March 22-25, 2015. Register here.