Leaders of the NFL’s Domestic-Violence Response Pledge 'Multiple Millions'

Posted in: Foundation News

The National Football League plans to give away "multiple millions of dollars over five years" to combat domestic violence, says Anna Isaacson, the league’s newly appointed vice president for social responsibility.

How exactly it will do that, Ms. Isaacson isn’t prepared to say, but whatever the league decides, the tone and effectiveness of its philanthropic response could go a long way toward determining how it recovers from the public-relations firestorm sparked by the Ray Rice incident.

In September, league commissioner Roger Goodell tabbed Ms. Isaacson and three other women to spearhead the NFL’s domestic-violence efforts. Ms. Isaacson—who worked most recently as the NFL’s vice president for community affairs and philanthropy.

She will continue to oversee the NFL Foundation, which since late 2012 has been chaired by another of the league’s other most prominent and powerful women, Charlotte Jones Anderson, daughter of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and an executive vice president for the club.

The Chronicle spoke with Ms. Isaacson and Ms. Anderson about the NFL Foundation and its future. This is an edited transcript of that discussion.

What can you tell me about NFL’s commitments and partnerships on the issue of domestic violence?

Ms. Isaacson: We decided to fund the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center because we realized they didn’t have enough staff to respond to a spike in calls as a result of the public’s conversation around these issues. Our dollars and our resources will really go to help fix that. We’re not releasing the financial terms at this time, but I can tell you that each commitment will be multiple millions of dollars over five years.

We’ve been talking to many, many organizations. We just met with a New York-based organization last week called Sanctuary for Families. We’re in consistent discussions with the leaders of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Network to End Domestic Violence. We announced a set of advisers that have close relationships with a lot of these grass-roots organizations.

We are really listening and reaching out to as many people as we can to understand the issues and to really move the conversation forward into action.

Skeptics will say anything you do on this issue is a matter of PR and covering up for the league. How do you combat that?

Ms. Anderson: Frankly, and unfortunately, there are skeptics in everything we do. That is just the nature of our society. And that cannot be a deterrent to us to actually reach out and find the best course of action for us to help the most people—regardless of the critics. That’s not going to stop us from what we feel like is really great work that we need to do.

Over time, I’m sure that we will continue to be judged. Are we making the right moves? Are we doing the right thing? That’s fair game to everybody. But we have to make sure that we don’t lose focus.

A couple years ago, the NFL consolidated NFL Charities and the NFL Youth Football Fund into the NFL Foundation. Was there a certain inefficiency or problem you needed to address?

Ms. Anderson: By creating one strong philanthropic organization, we felt like we could be a lot more effective, efficient, and strategic. Spending a little here, spending a little there, when you bring it all under one umbrella, you can focus your impact a lot better with a uniform direction instead of two separate directions.

Charlotte, you have sons that play youth football. The NFL and its partner, USA Football, have done a lot of outreach to moms of youth football players. Do you feel like you’re an ambassador to that community?

Ms. Anderson: [Laughs] I think I am, whether I’m anointed one or not. I feel like I am the mom on the sideline that everybody comes to with questions—which is great because obviously I love this game and I love nothing more than watching my kids play the sport.

It’s great to be able to help educate and inform moms who may have questions either about the safety of the sport or the mechanics of the sport.

Do you feel you have some responsibility to that community? There are a lot of moms out there who are worried about their sons coming to them with that question: "Mom can I play football?"

Ms. Anderson: Absolutely. I do. We are here to help educate moms so they can make the best decision for their child.

Will the NFL have to scale back its giving in another area to increase funding for domestic-violence programs?

Ms. Isaacson: We do not intend to scale back, no.

So that means the amount of money going to the NFL Foundation is going to grow?

Ms. Isaacson: I think a lot of those questions we just don’t have the answers to. Our foundation has a set annual budget every year. And so if we need resources from other sources, we will do that and we will do what it takes.

I don’t envision it forcing the foundation to cut back on our current programs.

Do you wonder why there aren’t more women in positions of power in this league? Does the league need to have more women in positions of power to respond better to domestic-violence issues?

Ms. Anderson: I think there is always an opportunity to engage and have more women involved in your business. I think we face that every day. How do we create more opportunities for women to hold stronger roles and more visible roles? That’s always an issue we need to be aware of—just for the health of our league in general.

Ms. Isaacson: And I would say that for us it’s less about male-female and more about making sure that there’s the right people in the room, that there’s a diverse set of voices that are heard when important decisions are being made.

Send an e-mail to the author Avi Wolfman-Arent.