SIOUX CITY | For weeks, amid allegations involving several NFL players, domestic violence has been the focus of intense national attention, prompting a discussion on a much different playing field.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was charged after knocking out his then-fiancée in an Atlantic City elevator. Video first surfaced in February of Rice dragging the unconscious woman, now his wife, out of the elevator.

He was suspended for two games in late July, but after a second, more graphic, video was released Sept. 8 showing him punching the woman inside the elevator and knocking her out, he was released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the league.

A die-hard Denver Broncos fan since he was a kid, Collin Anderson, of Sioux City, said he is having second thoughts about the men he watches play for the NFL, especially now that he has three sons who share his love for the team.

“I sit there and I get my kids into it,” Anderson said. “I’ll say, 'Look at this guy, he’s a stud.' All that stuff dads do with their sons, and then you read about them getting caught with drugs and beating their women. It’s disgusting.”

In the wake of the scandals, the NFL has instituted a workplace policy for all the men and women it employs -- not just players -- and is working to create an outreach element with the ultimate aim of changing the conversation about the issue.

It also has created an advisory committee made up of women who advocate for victims of domestic violence, and is partnering with the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Anderson said players who are charged with domestic violence should get help through counseling or anger management classes. He pointed to New York Jets quarterback Michael Vick, who pleaded guilty in 2007 to federal charges in connection with an illegal interstate dog-fighting ring, as an example.

“Vick went to prison, he did the crime and he paid his time,” Anderson said. “I believe in second chances as long as people learn their lessons." 

Sioux City resident Gary Warren, a Green Bay Packers fan, said he had mixed emotions when felony child abuse charges were filed against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.

Peterson was indicted Sept. 12 for allegedly hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch. He is on the NFL’s exempt list, suspended from all team activities until the case is resolved.

“I hate to say it, but when I was a kid I got switched,” Warren said. “But I don’t know if that’s right.”

Views on disciplining children have changed over time, he said.

“Back in the '50s it wouldn’t be called child abuse,” he said. “Now it’s changed.”

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ON DECLINE

Justice Department figures that show domestic violence committed by intimate partners — current or former spouses, boyfriends or girlfriends — has declined by more than 60 percent since the mid-1990s.

The sharp decline in domestic violence began soon after the 1994 enactment of the federal Violence Against Women Act, which toughened penalties for offenders, expanded training for law enforcement and improved services for victims.

Yet the dramatic decrease from 1995 through 2004 has largely stalled. The latest federal figures for "serious" intimate partner violence — sexual assault or aggravated physical assault — showed 360,820 such incidents in 2013, or roughly 1,000 per day.

Kim Gandy, a former prosecutor who heads the National Network to End Domestic Violence, hopes awareness will increase as the NFL cases spark a national conversation on domestic violence that she described as unprecedented.

During the eight days after the Rice video appeared, the National Domestic Violence Hotline received about 8,500 calls.

Siouxland agencies offering counseling or housing for victims of domestic violence didn’t see an increase in the number of people asking for help. But it was too soon to tell if those numbers would increase, they said.

"People who never talked about it before are talking about it now, saying it happened in my family," Gandy said. "It's an opportunity to begin removing the stigma from domestic violence, so victims will feel more free to tell their stories."

Another much-needed step, said Gandy, is for more star athletes to speak out on domestic violence.

"Celebrity athletes hold so much sway," she said. "They could make a huge difference in young male attitudes toward masculinity and violence."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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