“Topless Women Talk NFL” sounds more like an advertisement for a lingerie football league than a grim public service announcement. But the creators of the 30-second clip hope its cheeky concept will draw viewers to an issue they say the National Football League has long overlooked: domestic violence.
“The NFL has its own cancer—and they don’t talk about it,” writer Cecilia Najar told TakePart. The video is intended as a commentary about the way the NFL promotes breast cancer awareness but at the same time, Najar said, mishandles allegations of domestic assault by players. In the video, the camera pans over the bare chests of three women cupping their hands over their breasts and cooing seductively. A tilt up of the camera reveals the women are badly bruised.
Najar created the video with director Natalie Metzger, producers Tessa Bell and Shay Moore, and consulting producer Meredith Riley Stewart. The L.A.-based collective calls itself Made by Women Media. The YouTube clip comes a week before the Super Bowl and a year after the NFL donated airtime to a domestic violence PSA as part of its partnership with No More, the campaign founded by advocacy groups in 2013 to raise awareness about domestic violence and sexual assault.
Najar said she got the idea for the campaign last October while watching professional football players strut across the field decked out in pink accessories in a nod to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. October is also designated as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but when Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay donned purple cleats
to show solidarity with the cause—he lost his mother to domestic violence—the league fined him for altering his uniform.
“It made me feel like women are only important to men when we talk about our boobs,” said Najar. That same month, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy
was welcomed back into the NFL after serving a four-game suspension for a domestic violence charge—a punishment many considered not nearly harsh enough, inciting widespread criticism
of the league.
Hardy is one of 16 NFL players who have been arrested on charges related to domestic violence since 2013, according to a database of arrests compiled by USA Today. Analysts at FiveThirtyEight compared the database with Bureau of Justice Statistics and found that while the overall arrest rate for NFL players is much lower than the national average, the rate of domestic violence arrests is disproportionately higher. Nearly half of all arrests for violent crimes among NFL players since 2000 were for domestic violence, compared with an estimated 21 percent nationally.
Responding to mounting outrage over what many perceived as inaction by the NFL, the league in December unveiled additions to its personal conduct policy. The revised policy increased unpaid suspension time for players accused of assault, battery, and domestic violence and extended counseling and support services for their families.
But many fans, including Najar, say the NFL hasn’t done enough to tackle the problem. She said she’d like to see the league adopt a no-tolerance policy, booting players who have been convicted of domestic violence. At the very least, individual teams could take a pledge to become domestic-violence-free, she suggested, calling sports a “tipping point” for change within the rest of the culture.
“How awesome would it be to cheer for a team that has made such a stand for women, and for families, and for the future of men?” she said. “There will be a time where professional sports organizations do not tolerate this kind of domestic abuse in their players. Why don’t we just get there?”