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Fans Call On NFL To Address Domestic Violence Issues

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing the Atlanta Falcons in Georgia tonight. What's usually a big night for football is being overshadowed again by an NFL player accused of domestic violence. This time, it's Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer. Police say Dwyer head-butted his wife, broke her nose and punched her. His arrest follows several other high-profile cases of alleged abuse by players in the league, and NFL leadership is scrambling to manage the crisis. Rose Scott of member station WABE in Atlanta spoke with some fans ahead of tonight's game.

ROSE SCOTT, BYLINE: It's lunch time in Midtown Atlanta, Billy Edels is coming out of a parking garage to run errands. He labels himself kind of a sports fan and had this to say when asked about the numerous off-the-field issues plaguing the NFL.

BILLY EDELS: Oh, we're going there, aren't we?

SCOTT: More domestic violence allegations and an indictment of child abuse - to say the NFL has an image problem is probably an understatement, says Billy.

EDELS: I think that the NFL needs to make a stand because they're setting an example for so many people. I honestly don't think that they've actually even come close to handling it appropriately. I think that they're sending a mixed message, and that needs to be clarified.

SCOTT: Across the street, coming out of a sports bar, Felecia Smith is quick to shout her allegiance for the home team. But she says the league needs to do a better job of enforcing personal conduct policies.

FELECIA SMITH: It should be zero tolerance at the very beginning. And it should be understood - maybe there wouldn't be so many different or, I guess, cases about it.

SCOTT: Standing nearby and listening to Smith's comments is Ben Wills. He's wearing an Atlanta Falcons jersey with the name Michael Vick, the former Falcons quarterback charged for his role in an illegal and high-profile dog fighting case. Will says the NFL needs to get involved in players' troubles sooner.

BEN WILLS: The NFL should step in immediately - I think so. And that cuts down on a whole lot of controversy depending on what they do off-field. I mean, right is right; wrong is wrong. If you do wrong, you have to suffer the consequences. And I think they should jump on it immediately.

SCOTT: Wills says sometimes, it appears the NFL doesn't know how to handle a crisis.

WILLS: You know, first, OK, you're cleared to play. No, you can't play. Oh, you're cleared to play. You're off the team. And it's all because of media. You know, once the media gets a hold to it - and the NFL, of course, they want to, you know, keep their image and everything up. But as far as them dealing with situations, I think it could be handled a little better and a little quicker.

SCOTT: At a nearby barbershop, the conversation is all about suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who's so far the most notorious of the NFL players ever since a video emerged of him knocking out his then-fiancee in a casino elevator.

JUSTIN DAVISON: I don't agree with them suspending him indefinitely - maybe a punishment, but not mess up his whole life.

SCOTT: That's Justin Davison (ph) the barber giving a fade to a customer. He says the league and the Ravens gave Rice an indefinite suspension just to save face.

DAVISON: Well, I think it was 'cause they was looking bad because they had already - to my understanding, they gave him a punishment. But when the tape dropped, they gave him a more severe punishment. I don't agree with that. That's like two different - you getting punished twice for the same thing.

SCOTT: Back out on the street, Shawna Dillion is shopping at a local boutique - says she wouldn't want to see a player, even on the field, if he were charged or proven to have committed domestic abuse.

SHAWNA DILLION: I think they should separate them. Yeah, I wouldn't want to support that at all.

SCOTT: Ben Wills, the Falcons fan wearing the Michael Vick jersey, says he's getting tired of all the off-the-field news.

WILLS: Definitely tired of it. I'm ready for the game.

SCOTT: For NPR News, I'm Rose Scott in Atlanta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.