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NFL’s Domestic Violence Policies Under Scrutiny Again Because Of Johnny Manziel

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel warms up before the start of an NFL football game between the St. Louis Rams and the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) CREDIT: TOM GANNAM, AP
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel warms up before the start of an NFL football game between the St. Louis Rams and the Cleveland Browns Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Tom Gannam) CREDIT: TOM GANNAM, AP

Over the weekend, the final weekend of Domestic Violence Awareness month, the NFL aired the first new anti-domestic violence PSA of the 2015 season. The ad, part of the “No More” brand, featured Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay talking about his mother’s death at the hands of a domestic abuser when he was eight years old. “It’s time for us to get off of the sidelines,” Gay says.

At the same time, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel — who is under investigation for a domestic violence incident earlier this month that led to multiple 911 calls from witnesses, questioning by police, and an abrasion on his girlfriend’s arm — was taking the field in St. Louis in relief of an injured Josh McCown. Depending on how McCown’s right shoulder fares this week, Manziel — or Johnny Football, as you might know him — might start against the Arizona Cardinals this weekend.

Once again, the NFL’s domestic violence policies — which, as ThinkProgress reported, were revamped publicly and privately in the aftermath of the high-profile Ray Rice incident — are being tested.

While no charges were pressed, the NFL is independently looking into Manziel’s argument with his girlfriend while driving in Avon, Ohio on October 12th. According to the police report, several witnesses called 911 around 6:00 p.m. on the day in question, reporting that Manziel was driving recklessly at speeds of approximately 90 miles per hour and arguing with his girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, who tried to exit the car while it was moving.

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Manziel, who spent 10 weeks at a drug and alcohol treatment center earlier this year, and Crowley both admitted to drinking. Manziel told police that he only had two drinks, and the reporting officer did not notice any visible signs of intoxication, although it was noted that Manziel’s breath did smell of alcohol. The 22-year-old was not given a sobriety test. However, the reporting officer concluded that Crowley was intoxicated because she had “bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, and was having difficulty focusing on what was asked of her by officers.”

Crowley told officers that Manziel ‘pushed her head against the glass of the car’ and ‘hit her a couple of times in the car.’

Crowley told the officer that the trouble began when she tried to get her cell phone back from Manziel, according to the narrative in the police report, who was driving recklessly and using her cell phone for music. She said that she wanted to call her parents to get help to return to Texas, where she is a senior at Texas Christian University. When Manziel refused to give her the cell phone, Crowley threw his wallet out the window, and Manziel turned the car around to go retrieve it.

Crowley told officers that Manziel “pushed her head against the glass of the car” and “hit her a couple of times in the car.” However, the report states that she did not think he could cause her physical harm, and she was adamant that she didn’t want to pursue charges. Despite the fact that Crowley could be heard in the dashcam video saying “I’m in fear for my life,” the police report reads: “She kept saying that she just wanted her phone and to return to Texas.”

The police concluded that the fresh abrasion on Crowley’s arm was caused by Manziel trying to keep Crowley from exiting the moving vehicle, and the police suspended the investigation without pressing charges, although the report does not dismiss the possibility that Manziel was trying to harm Crowley: “The intent of these actions is unknown; whether it was to knowingly cause physical harm to her or if it was from Mr. Manziel trying to keep Ms. Crowley safe from exiting the vehicle.”

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Manziel, who said after his return from rehab in the spring that regaining the trust of Browns fans “will only happen through what I do and not what I say,” tweeted after the report surfaced that it “looked more interesting than it was” and was “embarrassing but not serious.” He has told reporters that he will fully cooperate with any NFL investigation that occurs. Crowley also released a statement saying that “it was just an argument, it was private, and we are all good.”

Of course, it’s common for domestic violence victims, particularly of high-profile or powerful abusers, to refuse to press charges or testify, which is why an independent investigation is warranted.

“It looked to me like she was in some danger,” Kim Gandy, the president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told Jane McManus of espnW. “I know it’s hard for police when a victim said she doesn’t want to press charges, but you have eyewitnesses and the girlfriend said he hit her head on the glass. She has abrasions. You have multiple calls to 911 and people who stayed with the car. People don’t usually do that unless they’re concerned.”

While reporters such as McManus see the fact that the NFL is independently investigating this incident and not solely relying on law enforcement as a step in the right directions, others think that the NFL needs to go a step farther and deactivate Manziel while the investigation is ongoing.

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“Little more than a year after the league lived through the domestic violence nightmare induced by Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, how is it possible that Manziel is still on the active roster of an NFL team?” USA Today columnist Christine Brennan asked.

You have multiple calls to 911 and people who stayed with the car. People don’t usually do that unless they’re concerned.

The NFL’s updated personal conduct policy does not require a formal charge in order for an individual to be placed on the commissioner’s list, the NFL’s version of paid leave. The NFL merely needs to find “sufficient credible evidence that it appears a violation of the (personal conduct) policy has occurred.” Those violations could include: The use or threat of violence; domestic violence and other forms of partner abuse; disorderly conduct; conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person; and conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.

Over the past year, the NFL has dedicated a lot of time and energy to raising awareness and support for domestic violence organizations, donating millions to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. Last season, the league even donated weekly air time to No More PSAs featuring NFL stars. This season, those PSAs have not been re-aired during NFL games, though a fresh round of PSAs, including Gay’s, aired during a Law & Order: SVU marathon on Sunday.

Critics, however, have said that the NFL’s actions are more indicative of a public relations push than a desire for true change.

On Sunday, the chasm between talk and action was on display in New York. While the Giants joined their partners Joyful Heart Foundation and My Sisters’ Place to promote domestic violence awareness through social media and a new PSA, Dallas Cowboy Greg Hardy, just two games removed from a suspension for domestic violence, was on the field fighting with teammates and coaches. The league initially suspended Hardy, who reportedly threw his ex-girlfriend against a bed filled with rifles and threatened her life, for 10 games, but after an appeal that was reduced to four games. Jerry Jones, the owner of the Cowboys, called Hardy a “true leader” after the game.

The Manziel situation is another chance for the NFL to show that the “No More” message is more than just a PSA.