Domestic Violence in the NFL ... and Everywhere

Students use the case of Ray Rice — the professional football player seen physically abusing his fiancé — as a starting point to learn about domestic violence.

Note to the Teacher

On September 8, 2014, the Baltimore Ravens football team terminated the contract of player Ray Rice after the public release of a video of him punching his fiancé and knocking her unconscious. The case has raised questions about violence by professional football players and the NFL's handling of this problem. They have also made domestic violence front-page news.

More than likely, you have students who have witnessed or experienced violence in their homes. This lesson focuses on defining and understanding domestic violence in general, and does not ask students to share personal experiences of it. Even so, domestic violence is a sensitive topic to discuss in class. These guidelines for addressing difficult topics in the classroom may be helpful. You may want to speak with your school's social worker or guidance counselor before beginning this activity.

Learning Objectives

  • Students will define domestic violence.
  • Students will compare and contrast violence and domestic violence.
  • Students will learn facts about domestic violence.
  • Students will create materials to educate others about domestic violence.
  • Students will write a persuasive essay about how the NFL should deal with domestic violence by players.



Ask students what, if anything, they have heard about Ray Rice or the controversy in the National Football League about domestic violence. Ask students to share what they know, writing any key words—such as violence and domestic violence—on the board.

Elicit or explain that Ray Rice is a professional football player formerly with the Baltimore Ravens. In February 2014, Rice was caught on videotape hitting his fiancé, knocking her unconscious. Rice was arrested for the assault. In July 2014, the NFL suspended Rice for two games. In September, after the videotape of the assault went public, the Ravens terminated Rice's contract, and the NFL suspended him from the league indefinitely.  This case and others have raised questions about violence by professional football players and the NFL's handling of this problem. They have also made domestic violence front-page news.

Tell students that in this lesson they will be learning about domestic violence.  Note that domestic violence is a very upsetting issue. Encourage students to talk with you or the school social worker privately if the discussion raises issues for them.  

Defining Domestic Violence

Ask students: What does domestic violence mean?

With students, define domestic violence as violence that is done to people in one's family, such as to a partner or a child.

Divide the class into groups. Have each group make a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles. Label one circle "Violence" and the other circle "Domestic Violence."  In the area where the two circles overlap, have students write what violence and domestic violence have in common.  Under the headings in the main part of each circle, have students write facts that make each concept unique. By completing the diagram, students will discover how violence and domestic violence are similar to and different from each other.

Have each group post their diagram around the classroom and then have students do a "gallery walk" so they can see each others' diagrams. 

Bring the class together and ask:

  • What words did most or all of the groups include in the intersection of the two circles?
  • What distinguishes domestic violence from other forms of violence? 
  • How might this affect how the violence is experienced by the victim? 

Help students to see that domestic violence differs from other forms of violence because it involves violence among people who are intimately connected to each other.  

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Explain to students that it is easy for people to have incorrect assumptions about domestic violence. Tell students that you are going to read some statements.  After each statement, you'll give students a chance to give a thumbs up if they agree with the statement, a thumbs down if they disagree, or a thumbs sideways if they aren't sure.

  • Domestic violence is rare. It hardly ever happens.
  • When people abuse their partners, it is because they lost their temper and couldn't help it.
  • Domestic violence is against the law.
  • Domestic violence is no one's business because it happens among partners and in families.
  • Football players who commit acts of violence against their partners or children should lose their jobs.

Distribute to students the handout "Facts About Domestic Violence."  Read aloud each of the facts, stopping after each to give students a chance to respond to the fact. Point out to students which of the statements are correct.

Culminating Activity

Either of the following activities can serve as a culminating activity.

A. Raise public awareness about domestic violence

Give students the opportunity to complete the next activity alone, in pairs, or in groups. Have students choose one of the facts about domestic violence to work with. Tell them to find a way to explain the fact and a way to publicize it. Ask them to make a poster, pamphlet, public service announcement, or letter for public distribution. Have students identify community resources to help people involved in domestic violence, and include at least one such resource in the materials they create. Have groups share their work or put together a class presentation that they can give to others.

B.  Write an essay: What should the NFL do?

Have students write an essay that answers the following question: What should the National Football League do about players who commit acts of domestic violence? Have them use what they have learned as evidence to support their answer.


In a go-round, ask students to complete the following prompt: I used to think ___________________ but now I think __________________.



National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Domestic Violence Facts
Domestic Violence: Statistics and Facts
Feminist Majority Foundation: Domestic Violence Facts
GCADV: Myths and Facts