CHICAGO -- The NFL Draft gets under way on Thursday with the next generation of American football stars undergoing mandatory domestic violence and sexual assault education prior to the event for the first time in history.
All of the 28 prospects attending the draft in Chicago have received the same 45-minute educational briefing given to National Football League employees last season as the league reeled from a series of lurid headlines following the Ray Rice scandal.
"No matter what city we're in or what event we're planning, we continue to look for ways to educate players and staff about domestic violence and sexual assault, and engage with local organizations to make a difference," Anna Isaacson, the NFL's senior vice president of social responsibility, said in a comment emailed to AFP.
Several of the players included in the draft are also to speak with a group of high school students about social issues at an event in Chicago on Thursday.
The educational program includes video clips from NFL coaches and players, including a segment from William Gay, the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback who witnessed the murder of his mother by his stepfather as a seven-year-old.
"I want people out there to know that someone in the NFL has been that child who lost their mother and is willing to do anything to end domestic violence," Gay said in an interview with People magazine earlier this week.
All eyes on Thursday are expected to be on presumed top pick Jameis Winston, the Florida State quarterback who is tipped to be chosen by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Winston, 21, the youngest winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2013, has already faced his fair share of controversy, including an allegation of sexual assault and shoplifting.
All players in the draft will receive the same briefing at an expanded symposium in June, while all NFL players are to receive an updated education program later this year.
The steps come after a turbulent year of headlines for the NFL, which was criticized for its handling of the incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Rice, who was caught on a security video knocking out his then fiancee in a hotel elevator.
The incident, and further cases including that of Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy, prompted the NFL to draw up a new personal conduct policy for players as well as tougher sanctions for players who breached it.
Hardy was banned for 10 games last week as a result of a 2014 incident in which he was alleged to have assaulted a woman before throwing her onto a couch covered with assault rifles and shotguns.
He later escaped prosecution after the woman in the case declined to make herself available to local district attorneys.
Isaacson told USA Today the NFL had taken on board the lessons of the past year.
"It is a different NFL, but we think it's a stronger and better NFL for it," she said. "I think we have learned a lot and implemented some new plans that will make us stronger and make us better."
© 1994-2015 Agence France-Presse