Let's reappropriate Purple Friday [Letter]

The NFL could use its considerable clout to bring as much attention to domestic violence as it has to breast cancer

September 12, 2014

Like thousands of others across Maryland, our staff just celebrated our first Purple Friday of the season. We have a long-running office football pool, and each week a miniature traveling statue of Edgar Allan Poe — clad in a Ravens jersey — rests on the winner's desk as a trophy.

Though we haven't converted every employee into a tried-and-true Ravens fan (yet), we all agree we're pleased the Ravens' coaching staff took swift action to terminate Ray Rice's contract following Monday's release of the video showing him assaulting his then-fiancée in February.

IMA World Health, based an hour's drive from M&T Bank Stadium, is proud of our home team, and we have been cheering for them to make the right decision in light of Mr. Rice's violent behavior.

We manage a USAID-funded project in Eastern Congo dedicated to the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence, primarily against women. We support victims and survivors to get the holistic medical care and counseling they need and work with communities to promote gender equality. We are also the lead organization behind a coalition called WeWillSpeakOut.us — a group of faith-based organizations and individuals calling for the end of this violence here in the U.S.

IMA, which focuses on international health, started working to end sexual and domestic violence in the U.S. because we could rarely talk about our work in Eastern Congo in churches, schools and other forums without at least one person coming forward with their own painful story of surviving abuse or violence.

Violence is an epidemic in this country, and it takes an immense, long-term toll on a victim's physical, emotional and mental health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in three women in the U.S. will experience sexual violence, intimate partner violence or stalking.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knows Ray Rice was not the first NFL player to commit a violent offense and that the league can do much more to set a positive example for players and fans alike. We applaud his recent admission that he "didn't get it right" when he originally gave Rice a two-game suspension, and we approve of the NFL's new harsher penalties for domestic violence and sexual assault offenders. This is a positive step in affirming that aggression is acceptable only on the football field.

But I think we should take it further, starting here in Baltimore.

Every October, players across the NFL wear pink to raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research. We love the idea of using such a large platform to raise awareness, particularly among men, of health issues that primarily affect women. But at the same time, October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month — an issue that often gets drowned in the sea of pink.

According to cancer.gov, about one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in her life. Almost three times as many women will suffer from sexual or domestic violence. We don't intend to minimize the devastating impact of breast cancer, but instead to raise the profile of sexual and domestic violence and the lasting pain it inflicts on both women and men alike.

Now is the perfect time for the NFL to use its widespread reach in a campaign against sexual and domestic violence. The Ravens in particular are in the spotlight today, and they have the opportunity to lead the charge.

After all, the Domestic Violence Awareness ribbon is purple.

To get this movement started, we have created free Purple Friday / Domestic Violence Awareness flyers that you can download on the WeWillSpeakOut.us website. We invite you to hang them in your cubicles and lockers, on your refrigerators, and in your bathroom stalls. The flyers have hotline numbers listed for those in need of help or someone to talk to.

Change your profile picture to the purple ribbon (find WeWillSpeakOut.us on Facebook to use ours) and share it with your friends. Use hashtags #rayrice, #purplefriday and #nevermore on Twitter.

Be a teammate; if you see abusive behavior, say something. If someone discloses abuse to you, believe them and offer to walk alongside them as they seek help.

Can we give Purple Friday a whole new meaning this season? Let's channel our team spirit into a movement to end sexual and domestic violence. Maybe by next year, the entire NFL will be wearing purple.

Rick Santos, New Windsor

The writer is president and CEO of IMA World Health.

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