Pre-game excitement is building for Super Bowl XLIX between the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks and, per usual, much of it is focused on the advertising. But rather than wondering which ad will have the sexiest models, the attention instead is on a provocative online anti-domestic violence campaign produced by UltraViolet, a national women’s advocacy group.
The disturbing ad shows a fully padded football player preparing for a tackle. He charges ahead, but rather than run down an opponent, he attacks a woman standing alone on the field. “Let’s take domestic violence out of football,” a voice over says while the on-screen text reads “55 NFL abuse cases unanswered.” The ad ends with the words, #Goodellmustgo.
The spot is garnering much attention for the organization that created it, partly because Sport’s Illustrated‘s website originally refused to run the campaign. Scott Novak, a spokesperson for the magazine, said, “It really was a simple technical glitch. When the campaign came through we only saw the banner ad. We rejected it because the way it was designed, it could have been misconstrued as Sport Illustrated‘s editorial opinion. Once we realized we had not seen the full campaign, we reversed our decision.”
Now, SI along with Huffington Post Sports, will be showing the ad and the additional banners over the next few days. UltraViolet’s original goal was to reach over a million viewers online. Thanks to the technical “glitch” and the media around it, they may reach many more.
Only three years old, UltraViolet claims it has 600,000 members across the country. They pressure government, businesses and other industry leaders with attention-getting social media, advertising and grassroots campaigns. “We believe bias has a cost,” explains the group’s co-founder, Nita Chaudhary. “Our goal is to tackle the institutional structures that are rewarded for fostering sexism.”
One target? The NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell. After the Ray Rice scandal, UltraViolet says it uncovered 55 additional cases of abuse in the NFL that they claim went unanswered under Goodell’s watch. Since then, UltraViolet and its members have been waging a campaign to dethrone the commissioner. “Goodell Must Go” became a mantra that has included online petitions, emails to advertisers, phone calls to the league, and even airplane banners over selected stadiums on game days.
“The NFL is one of the most powerful institutions in this country,” says Chaudhary. “If they truly wanted to change the dynamic around domestic violence, they could. But that takes leadership. Roger Goodell is focused on crisis management, not on eradicating violence against women.”
Meanwhile, the NFL and its commissioner are making an effort to tackle the issue of violence against women. Last fall, Goodell announced the NFL would be giving “millions” to domestic violence hotline organizations and this weekend the league will be airing their own anti-violence ad during the Super Bowl. Produced by Grey Worldwide, the haunting spot recounts a real life 911 call made by a victim. Intended to create awareness about the issue, the spot invites viewers to visit NoMore.org.
Despite the NFL’s efforts, some domestic violence advocates argue it’s not enough. According to Kit Gruelle, a survivor whose film, Private Violence, debuted at Sundance in 2014 and ran on HBO this past October, three women are killed by their partners every day in our country. She says, “There are good guys in the NFL that want to do the right thing, but that takes deep and long-term commitment not just a one-time donation to a hotline or one ad during the Super Bowl.
Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference, an advertising industry organization dedicated to changing the ratio of women in creative leadership positions agrees more work needs to be done. “But,” she says, “the potential impact of the NFL’s ad could be significant. Not only will it be seen by over 115 million people, nearly half of whom will be women, it will also be a focus on Twitter where women predominate. It’s a chance to start a real national dialogue on this issue.” Gordon’s group will be live tweeting the event using the hashtag, #3percentSB, but you can be sure you’ll be seeing #GoodellMustGo streaming live as well.
Lisen Stromberg is an award-winning independent journalist who writes about women, work, and life in Silicon Valley.
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