Mariska Hargitay on Anti-Domestic Violence PSAs With NFL Stars: The Impact ‘Is Absolutely Huge’

“It is a huge opportunity because people look to football players to set the bar,” the “Law & Order” star tells TheWrap

Mariska Hargitay is adding some serious muscle to her campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault.

The “Law & Order: SVU” star has expanded her series of domestic-violence public service announcements to include spots featuring numerous NFL stars, including San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich and Hall of Famers Cris Carter and Aeneas Williams. Dwayne Allen, William Gay, Alfred Morris, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Merton Hanks, James Thrash and Charles Way also are featured in the spots.

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The new spots, part of the ongoing “No More” campaign that Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation participates in, will premiere on “Thursday Night Football” beginning Oct. 23.

While “No More” PSAs featuring actors have previously aired during NFL games, the addition of NFL players to the campaign brings a new dimension to the effort. And the new spots couldn’t come at a more relevant time, as the league grapples with a rash of domestic-violence cases that have generated negative headlines for the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell.

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The spots were shot Monday and Tuesday in a three-pronged approach by Hargitay, “Ironside” actor Blair Underwood and “24: Live Another Day” actor Tate Donovan, with Hargitay directing some spots in New York, Underwood directing others in Los Angeles and Donovan helming still more in Dallas.

TheWrap spoke with Hargitay to discuss the anti-domestic violence campaign’s new phase.

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TheWrap: How did this campaign featuring NFL players come about?
Mariska Hargitay: It’s a very kind of beautiful story. We released these [earlier PSAs] a year ago and have been making these for the past year during different shoots, and we finally did another shoot with Viacom. We aired them during the NFL football [season], and then the players saw them. And it was funny because I was watching them with Maile Zambuto, my CEO of Joyful Heart, and as we watched them we said, “Wouldn’t it be a dream if the NFL players could do these spots?” They’re the fabric of American culture, they’re the center of our society, really. Within a half-hour, we started getting emails saying the players wanted to be part of the campaign. It was the players’ initiative to partner with us. It’s pretty awesome.

Antonio Gates, Blair UnderwoodHow does the “No More” campaign fit in with the overall movement against domestic violence and sexual assault?
“No More” is an initiative much like the red ribbon is to AIDS or the pink ribbon is to breast cancer. But this “No More” symbol is for the first time having a symbol that unifies the sexual assault and domestic violence movement. So it’s our symbol. But hundreds and hundreds of organizations have come together. It has actually unified all of these organizations. The point is, together we can end sexual assault and domestic violence. We were trying to figure out how to bring everybody together, just like those symbols did for the other organizations for AIDS and for breast cancer. And my foundation, Joyful Heart, produced these. That was sort of our gift to the field, to produce them.

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The NFL has been in the news lately for a number of domestic violence cases. Do you think that the culture of the NFL lends itself to violence, or is it a matter of these cases just getting more attention than they might have in the past?
I think violence is part of the culture of the world, it’s not necessarily the culture of the NFL. It’s in every institution, it’s everywhere, it’s in society, sadly. So I think what this is, it’s just shining a light. It is a huge opportunity because people look to football players to set the bar. These are the people who are our heroes today. And if they stand up and say, “No more” and show men how to be real men … you know, this is targeted at young boys. We’re trying to grow them up a different way and teach them that there are different options and alternatives, and violence is not one of them.

So do you feel that athletes doing these PSAs will have a different impact than the earlier PSAs that have featured actors?
Much different. I think there’s hero worship for athletes, and they push their bodies beyond what’s normal. They can do anything, they’re heroes in so many ways. So this is being a hero of integrity, and showing how young boys should behave and can behave, and different ways to behave.

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The PSAs featuring the players will air during NFL games — which, in addition to targeting the people you’re hoping to reach, also offers an enormous audience for the spots.
It’s the biggest audience, and I think one of the most important audiences. Already, these have been in front of hundreds of millions, and it’s gonna be more now. The impact and the reach is absolutely huge. And that’s the goal — the goal is obviously visibility and reach. And the most exciting part of it is that we’re just getting started. This is just the beginning.