In 2014, when a disturbing video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancée unconscious went viral, the National Football League finally began to address violence against women with the seriousness it deserves.
The recent criminal charges against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft for allegedly soliciting women for sex at a Florida massage parlor that police say was part of a brutal “transnational human-trafficking ring” should be a similar wake-up call for the NFL and its 32 team owners.
Regardless of Kraft’s guilt or innocence, the league should view his arrest as an opportunity to address the scourge of sex trafficking in our society, raise public awareness and contribute its immense wealth — NFL revenue last season was roughly $15 billion — to stamping out human trafficking once and for all.
Many NFL players have already joined the fight against human trafficking. In 2014, after working at the NFL Players Association, Jaclynn Willert launched Team Freedom, an International Justice Mission (IJM) initiative that helps pro athletes “use their platforms in tangible and impactful ways in the fight to bring rescue and justice to those enslaved around the world.”
From the onset, there was a “tremendous response,” Willert said. “We now have representation in almost half of the NFL locker rooms,” including more than 30 players and their families. “A couple of key families at the start were Matt and Sarah Hasselbeck and Kirk and Julie Cousins,” who remain “game-changers and leaders” in the fight against modern-day slavery, Willert said.
Human trafficking is a global crime, illicitly generating some $150 billion a year, two-thirds of it from the sex trade. But the crime of selling women and girls — whether they be from Asia (as in the Kraft case), Latin America or the U.S. — takes place locally, in our neighborhood strip malls, truck stops, hotels and homes. Sadly, IJM estimates there are 40 million people held as sex and labor slaves around the world today, more than at any other time in history.
Why are professional athletes important in the fight against modern-day slavery? “Their platform is huge,” explained Willert, “and they’re willing to use it in very powerful and specific ways.” Since 2014, they’ve raised millions of dollars to send IJM representatives into the field and rescue people from slavery, whether it be taking “a little girl out of a brothel” or “a boy from a fishing boat.”
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS