NFL PR Fiasco Creates Great New Funding Opportunities for Domestic Violence Nonprofits

Unless you’ve been on Venus for the past few weeks, you’ve been engulfed in a tidal wave of bad news from the NFL* parade of domestic violence players/perpetrators. Leaving aside the spectacularly inept response of the suddenly hapless Commissioner Roger Goodell and the apparent media surprise that pro football players are pretty violent guys, this episode has suddenly thrust domestic violence back into the public consciousness for the first time in years.

When we started Seliger + Associates 21 years ago, there was a lot of interest in and funding for domestic violence, and we wrote lots of proposals for nonprofits involved in domestic violence prevention and treatment. In 1994, Congress passed the then-landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), unleashing a torrent of federal funds—including state pass-through funding. Foundations became interested in supporting the emerging infrastructure of domestic violence prevention and treatment providers.

While the VAWA still exists—it was reauthorized by George Bush the Younger in 2005—and there was a spike in funding during the Stimulus Bill bonanza six years ago, the issue largely faded into the general human services background. We rarely get calls from domestic violence providers these days and only occasionally write a proposal that involves domestic violence, even peripherally. The rise and subsidence of domestic violence is a pretty good example of the grant waves we’ve written about.

Since Commissioner Goodell has unintentionally prolonged the recent domestic violence PR fiasco, assisted by a parade of NFL players who seem to love to beat their girlfriends/wives/children, politicians, the domestic violence “industry,” and media pundits have responded with outrage and thinly veiled demands for additional funding. Joseph Epstein wrote an excellent essay in the WSJ on the media and political moral preening of this story. The punch line, so to speak, is that the top three most viewed TV programs last week, during the height of the moral outrage, were Monday Night Football, Thursday Night Football and Sunday Night Football.

Right on cue, Goodell announced that the NFL would form a Domestic Violence Advisory Board and fund the National Domestic Violence Hotline and a couple of other national advocacy organizations. We’re all for new funding for nonprofits, but this is less about the NFL’s dubious good intentions and is largely to placate NFL advertisers, like Nike and Bud Light, who spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ads. The advertisers are not amused. Also, each NFL team has local advertisers, and Radisson Hotels quickly pulled their advertising for the Vikings following child abuse charges filed against star running back Adrien Peterson. There are likely other similar examples by now.

For nonprofits involved with domestic violence, this a rare and golden opportunity to seek funding from nervous corporate advertisers and foundations. When conducting grant source research, we usually closely examine the charitable purposes, funding objectives and past grants of foundations and corporate giving programs. If your agency wants to fund domestic violence initiatives now, however, we’ll forget that approach for moment. Instead, we would (and you should) look for corporations that advertise with the NFL and its teams, along with large local and national hand-wringing foundations, regardless of what their funding priorities supposedly are.

As the old saw about lawyers goes: “When the law is on your side, argue the law. When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When neither is, pound the table.” Nonprofits involved in domestic violence should pound the table and seek funds from this army of new potential funders. Don’t wait. The news cycle will change in a few weeks and the media herd will move on to the next expose. Public interest is fickle. On the other hand, the NBA season starts soon, so maybe there’ll be new revelations to keep interest going and new funding for domestic violence.


* This is not the first time the NFL has been linked with domestic violence. For years, particularly around the time of the original VAWA legislative debate in Congress in the early ’90s, persistent media reports claimed a huge rise in domestic violence complaints on Super Bowl Sunday. Although this fairy tale was debunked as a hoax years ago, it still pops up. Domestic violence occurs every Sunday, and every day of the week for that matter. Professional football has nothing to do with it, except that some NFL players—like other members of American society—perpetrate it.

It’s also not obvious that your boss should police your private life.

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