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Cleveland Cavaliers promo video plays domestic violence for laughs

The clip arrives at a time when professional sports is in the spotlight for a series of domestic abuse scandals.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are now admitting they made a "mistake" by broadcasting a promotional video during their NBA playoff game against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday night that appeared to make light of domestic violence.

In a 1-minute video that is ostensibly a parody of the classic climax of the 1987 film "Dirty Dancing" and a recent United Healthcare commercial, a man and his girlfriend shimmy toward each other in their kitchen as he prepares to gracefully lift her up. But when the man discovers his girlfriend is wearing a Bulls T-shirt, he violently throws her to the ground. "I didn't know you were a Bull fan," he mutters dejectedly.

The woman is seen writhing on the floor in pain as the Cavaliers' tag line "All In" appears on top of her. "When it's playoff basketball you have to be all in, so don't make the same mistake she made," a voiceover says.

At the end of the video, the woman sits next to her boyfriend on the couch, now both wearing "All In" Cavaliers shirts. She is holding a bag of ice to her head and he has his arm around her.

"I thought you were all in," he says. She replies: "Well I'm all in now, let's just watch the game." The man, with a satisfied smile on his face, directly addresses the camera and says: "Go Cavs."  

"Domestic violence is a very serious matter and has no place in a parody video that plays in an entertainment venue. We sincerely apologize to those who have been affected by domestic violence for the obvious negative feelings caused by being exposed to this insensitive video," the Cavaliers said in a statement on Thursday,

"The Cavaliers organization has a strong and lengthy track record of supporting domestic violence-related causes and efforts. We will continue to proudly work with our regional partners at the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center in support of their numerous programs to end domestic violence in our country once and for all," they added. According to Deadspin, the video was removed from the team's Vimeo page on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) have both weighed in. 

“The Cavaliers organization could have chosen another path to engage their fans. Intentionally causing physical harm to someone is never a laughing matter, particularly for the more than 1,100 people in crisis who reach out daily to the National Domestic Violence Hotline looking for a way to escape a violent relationship," Katie Ray-Jones, CEO, of the National Domestic Violence Hotline told msnbc on Thursday. "Those who minimize domestic violence need to realize that they are further numbing our culture’s perception of domestic violence. This video is evidence that education on this critical issue is still desperately needed.” 

“It seems the Cavaliers haven’t learned the lessons that others in the sports world have this year. Violence against women isn’t funny, it isn’t acceptable, and athletes and their leagues have a role to play in ending violence against women," Cindy Southworth, the Executive Vice President of NNEDV, told msnbc Thursday. "This video is appalling. It is giant step backward." 

This video arrives at a time when professional sports is under a huge spotlight when it comes to domestic abuse. The NFL spent much of last season trying to redeem its image after the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal received national coverage and all of the major professional sports are receiving more scrutiny about the way athletes are reprimanded for allegations of domestic violence or sexual assault.

"The tasteless Cavaliers commercial encourages domestic violence by setting the tone that it is okay to laugh at such behavior when it is not," Dr. David and Deborah Alessi, founders of Face Forward Foundation, a nonprofit providing reconstructive surgery for domestic violence survivors, told msnbc on Thursday.  "Videos such as this desensitizes people and makes them more comfortable with aggressive behaviors by laughing about them. When you allow people to laugh about these actions it makes the issue less serious."