Childhood Trauma and the NFL


Four Things the NFL Can Do to Stop Abuse and Keep Players on the Field


Jane Stevens is a remarkable Journalist who has started a revolution.  She gets it, how do we create a peaceful world?  Like the quote by Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”.  Rewarding bullies has taken a huge toll on our society.  The reaction to violence cannot continue to be; deny, reward or punish.   We must begin to address the underlying cause and heal the wound.  What if we could see these broken men acting out, as the children they were when they were traumatized? Could we care for them, ask them why, teach them, and hold us all accountable for their healing, for the sake of our well-being.

Skipping ahead to my favorite part-

So, what would a trauma-informed NFL look like? Really!!!!!

First, the NFL could recognize that childhood trauma is an epidemic, that it affects most people in the U.S. That it’s likely that the same percentage of NFL team members — and staff — have as many ACEs as the rest of the population.

And then, the NFL could implement approaches similar to other organizations that are trauma-informed…..

Many people are happy that the Minnesota Vikings kicked Adrian Peterson off the team and that Ray Rice can no longer play for the Baltimore Ravens. Their off-field violence has cascaded into harm and loss for everyone involved — spouses, children, team, league and fans — all because of the consequences of their childhood trauma. And the only way the NFL can stop further abuse, harm and loss is… well… to deal with its players’ childhood trauma.

The severe and toxic stresses in Peterson’s past — or what we in the trauma-informed community count on a scale from one to 10 as adverse childhood experiences or ACEs — aren’t minor. As a child, he lost his father to prison, suffered through his parents’ divorce, saw his brother killed by a drunk driver, and was beaten by his stepfather. Repeating the pattern, he whipped his own four-year-old son with a switch so harshly that he raised welts on the child’s body. And if Peterson is convicted and goes to prison, his son can add another ACE to his trauma-filled life.

Peterson and Rice are two of millions of child and spouse abusers who love their families and can learn from their mistakes, if provided with help early enough. The average child abuser or spouse abuser isn’t dirty, disheveled, reeking of alcohol or stoned on meth. Child and spouse abusers are corporate CEOs, ministers, priests, actors, business owners, teachers, truck drivers, physicians, nurses, basketball heroes, journalists, computer programmers, and your next-door neighbors.

They’re dads and moms who have a hard time controlling their emotions when they’re under stress because they themselves were abused. Nobody helped them when they were kids and nobody’s helping them as adults.

Plain and simple, childhood trauma is the nation’s No. 1 public health problem. TheCDC’s Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) — the largest public health study you never heard of — shows that childhood trauma is very, very common. (ACE surveys in 22 states echo the results.) And this childhood adversity causes violence, including family violence, as well as the adult onset of chronic disease and mental illness.

By learning about the science of childhood adversity, and following the lead of many other organizations that are becoming trauma-informed, the NFL could have players whose families are happier and healthier, it could have better players (more focused, less stressed), and it might never have to deal with a Ray Rice or Adrian Peterson situation again.

The NFL has 1,696 players. Of those 1,696 players, probably two-thirds — 1,119 young men — have experienced one type of serious childhood trauma. And it’s likely that 22 percent — about 370 players — have suffered three or more types of adverse childhood experiences. And it’s causing some of them to beat their girlfriends, spouses and kids.

This is based on the ACE Study’s findings that about two-thirds of U.S. adults — that’s approximately 150 million people — have experienced at least one of the 10 types of childhood trauma that were measured. These include five personal types — physical, sexual and verbal abuse, and physical and emotional neglect. And five family dysfunctions: a family member in prison, depressed or mentally ill, or who abuses alcohol or other drugs; losing a parent to divorce or separation, and witnessing a mother being abused. Of course there are other types of childhood trauma, such as bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, and watching a sibling being abused, but the ACE Study measured only 10 types.

About 44 million adults in the U.S. have experienced at least three or more types. The higher the number, the higher the risk of disease and violence. Got an ACE score of 4? Your risk of heart disease increases 200 percent. Your risk of suicide increases 1200 percent.

The effects of ACEs on family violence are especially troubling. Men who experienced physical abuse when they were kids — that means a parent or other adult who often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or threw something at them, or ever hit them so hard that they had marks or were injured — are twice as likely to assault their spouses or girlfriends. (The ACE Study was done on 17,000 people, most of whom are white, middle- and upper-middle class, college educated, all with jobs and great health care.)