NFL Domestic Violence Spate Sparks Local TV Initiatives

The NFL’s rash of domestic violence incidents has been dominating the news cycle, and has encouraged several stations, with roots in the communities and a stated mission to improve life therein, to combat the troubling issue. The brain trust at WRAL-WRAZ Raleigh- Durham met hours before the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée was released, discussing what the station could do to deal with the issue. After the clip surfaced and immediately became ubiquitous, the Capitol Broadcasting stations stepped up their plans to shine light on domestic violence in the North Carolina market. “We said, this is top-of-mind right now,” says Steve Hammel, president and general manager of WRAL. “What can we do to address it?”

Within 24 hours, the stations had produced a pair of public service announcements, running 60 and 90 seconds, under the title “eNOughNC”, and debuted them during Thursday Night Football Sept. 11. That marquee game featured Rice’s former team, the Ravens. The spots also ran on sister WILM Wilmington, Capitol’s radio stations and even on the big screen at a Durham Bulls game (Capitol owns the ball club). They continue to air today.

More Than a News Story

The Capitol stations are a few of the local outlets around the nation that are raising awareness for domestic violence, and providing assistance for victims. WEWS Cleveland, with an “On Your Side” brand, hosted an hour-long town hall on the topic at the station. Scripps sister WFTS Tampa conducts a daylong telethon to benefit the state-certified domestic violence centers in the market Oct. 22, culminating in a one-hour special at 7 p.m.

It’s the sixth year of WFTS’ Taking Action Against Domestic Violence initiative. “We recognized early on that this is an issue that doesn’t go away,” says Steve Wasserman, divisional general manager at Scripps. “That it’s now top-of-mind in the NFL is not surprising to the folks in Tampa.”

Many stations were dedicating resources to fight domestic abuse long before the NFL cases dominated the headlines. KHON Honolulu anchor Jai Cunningham had his head shaved on the air in 2012 as a tribute to a victim, and vowed to repeat the shearing every time a Hawaii woman or child died due to domestic abuse.

“I want this to serve as a reminder that domestic violence is real, it happens every day, it happens to people like Heather Rosa,” he said of a murder victim.

The landscape in Hawaii may be picture perfect, says Rick Blangiardi, VP and general manager at Raycom’s Hawaii News Now setup in Honolulu, but the issue of domestic violence is a grave one in the state. KGMB and KHNL have partnered with Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart foundation, which addresses domestic abuse and sexual abuse, including airing PSAs with the Law & Order: SVU star and the tagline “No More.”

The spots run frequently enough, says Blangiardi, that viewers have started to ask if Hargitay is working at the station. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback on the campaign and raised a lot of awareness,” he notes.

Scripps Stations Shine Light

WEWS anchor Danita Harris hosted the Cleveland town hall September 17. The live special featured a panel, prevention tips, victims’ stories and viewer emails. The market has “a bit of history” with violence and women, says Sam Rosenwasser, WEWS VP and general manager; last year, the stations—and national media—reported on the three women held captive for a decade by Ariel Castro.

“We’d been watching it for a while,” he says. “But when the Ray Rice video came out, we said, this is probably the right time to do something for the community.”

While ratings are somewhat beside the point for such a special, Rosenwasser said the town hall, with a 1.55 household rating, was runner-up in the time period among males 25-54.

Down in Tampa, WFTS staffers are pleased to see greater attention being paid to an issue that’s been essential to them for years. Phone calls to the local domestic violence coalition go up around 77% during the six-week Take Action campaign, says Lissette Campos-Perez, WFTS director of community affairs.

“I’m glad something so tragic has turned into a national level story,” she says. “It’s good people are finally talking about it.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone, senior content producer at B+C/Multichannel News, covers network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television. He hosts the podcasts Busted Pilot, about what’s new in television, and Series Business, a chat with the creator of a new program, and writes the column “The Watchman.” He joined B+C in 2005. His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Playboy and New York magazine.