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NFL turns to virtual reality as a tool to confront domestic abuse and racism

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By Tony Connelly, Sports Marketing Reporter

April 11, 2016 | 2 min read

The NFL is adopting VR as a tool to address the racial and domestic violence issues which have troubled the league in recent years.

Researchers at Stanford University have been using virtual reality technology to create a range of training simulations designed to engender empathy and ultimately reshape behaviours.

The NFL has had to deal with a number of high profile cases of domestic violence and racism from players and coaches in recent years and in an effort to combat that problem officials met with researchers at the Interaction lab to discuss simulations which could train league staffers and players on understanding bias.

“Feeling prejudice by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is what VR was made for,” said Jeremy Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab.

The NFL’s executive vice president of football operations, Troy Vincent, first visited the lab with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell last year and realised the tech could have practical issues outside of game simulations.

Discussing the uses of VR Vincent said he believed the tech “can deliver on real social issues that allow people to be better” and confirmed that the league would “start using this as another teaching tool later this year”.

Stanford’s Interaction Lab’s VR demos place users in unnerving situations as a means of helping train them to better deal with the scenarios. In one scenario, a user is represented by an African-American female avatar who is being angrily harassed by a white avatar. When the user reflexively lifts his or her arms in self-defense, the hands feature black skin.

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