NFL deals with domestic abuse problems

Rice and McDonald putting NFL in negative light

By Matthew Roberson

On the surface, the National Football League appears to be incredibly successful. If you consider millions of viewers on television every week, sold out stadiums and a never-ending revenue stream signs of success, then yes, the NFL is wildly successful.

Behind all of the bright lights, the league is riddled with many severe issues amongst its players, owners and even the commissioner. These issues, mainly domestic violence, are dominating headlines, SportsCenter broadcasts and talk radio airwaves from Monday through Saturday, interrupted only when the league’s troubled players duke it out on the field every Sunday.

Currently occupying the spot of most-talked about NFL story is the Ray Rice incident, taking attention away from things like the league’s often-criticized drug policy, handling of concussions and treatment of its retired players. By now, anyone who watches or listens to the news world has heard about how Rice struck his fiancee, Janay Palmer, in the face during an altercation in an elevator in Atlantic City, NJ.

It seems as though every sports fan has seen the footage by now and developed a strong opinion toward the incident. Everyone except for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, apparently. Goodell initially suspended Rice for a mere two games, but after TMZ released the footage on Sept. 8 explicitly showing Rice’s attack, the NFL suspended him “indefinitely” and the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract.

This decision perplexed many people. While most will agree that Rice should be banned from football, it was the way in which the NFL reached that decision which led to widespread confusion and outrage.

If seeing the footage alone caused the increase in suspension, what did Roger Goodell and the NFL executives think domestic violence really looked like? Why does actually watching a video of Rice striking his fiancée make what he did any worse? The whole scenario throws a cloud of ignorance over Goodell and the entire NFL as decision-makers.

Making things even worse is Goodell’s claim that no one from the NFL had seen the attack footage prior to TMZ’s release of it, despite an Associated Press report claiming that the NFL received the video more than four months ago. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello reiterated Goodell’s statement that video proof of Rice had not reached any league officials. He said, “We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We’ll look into it.”

The NFL needs to do more than just “look into it.” Something does not add up here, and it is becoming more and more evident with each additional claim and investigation that someone within the NFL is lying to the media.

With how much money and power the NFL possesses, it seems ludicrous that they couldn’t obtain a simple piece of video footage from a casino in Atlantic City. If a gossip website like TMZ obtained the footage so easily, why couldn’t the organization that actually employed Rice?

Either way, the situation surrounding Rice is a bit of a lose-lose situation for the NFL. If the league office actually couldn’t get a hold of the video – or even worse, if they didn’t want to – it would demonstrate an extreme level of incompetency and negligence for a corporation that prides itself on its honor. On the other hand, if the NFL has seen the video and is blatantly lying to everyone about having never received the tape, then the league would be guilty of trying to cover up a reprehensible act by one of its star players simply to keep him on the field.

Commissioner Goodell’s handling of this whirlwind of circumstances has driven many activist groups to call for his resignation.
Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, lashed out at the league for not treating these type of situations properly. She expressed her anger by saying, “The NFL has lost its way. It doesn’t have a Ray Rice problem, it has a violence against women problem.” Unfortunately for Goodell and NFL fans everywhere, O’Neill may be right.

While Rice’s domestic dispute has been the one dominating the news cycle, other NFL players find themselves in similar predicaments.
Chief among them is San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who was arrested in August on suspicion of felony domestic violence. Had McDonald, a relatively obscure player on the 49ers defense, been suspended like Rice was, his name would likely not even be known by sports fans right now. It was the 49ers’ handling of the situation that has brought attention to McDonald, as the team allowed him to play in its first two games despite the organization’s so-called “zero tolerance policy” regarding domestic violence.

Team CEO Jed York is undoubtedly under heavy scrutiny because of his role in the 49ers’ organization. He told a sports radio station, “I’m comfortable my reputation is going to take shots throughout this process, but my character is: I will not punish somebody until we see evidence that it should be done, or before an entire organization, an entire police and legal investigation, shows us something.”

While it is clear that the 49ers are firm believers in letting the legal process play out, they seem to be avoiding any disciplinary action altogether.

The NFL, and Goodell in particular, find themselves fighting a battle they almost surely cannot win. Goodell has remained adamant that despite the firestorm of criticism he is receiving, he will not resign as the league’s commissioner.

Even if he upholds that self-fulfilling promise, Goodell’s reputation and overall respect level among sports fans is decreasing rapidly with each passing day. His attempt to save face by implementing a new, tougher policy on domestic violence on Aug. 28, after he had already given Rice his slap-on-the-wrist two-game suspension, came across as pathetic and a classic example of “too little, too late.” His recent string of supposed lies and cover-ups hasn’t helped his public perception either, as the cries for Goodell to lose his job have grown louder.

Arguably the biggest factor working against Goodell right now is himself. He comes across as a bumbling man who struggles with big decisions, heavily paling in comparison to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, who was applauded nationwide for his handling of the Donald Sterling racism fiasco.

Goodell’s own words are coming back to haunt him, as many pundits have been pointing to his “ignorance is not a suitable defense” statement to the New Orleans Saints in the wake of their bounty program two years ago.

If ignorance isn’t a suitable defense, then why does that seem to be Goodell’s go-to defense during this Ray Rice situation? Why is it okay for the league’s most powerful figure to display ignorance on a matter regarding a player’s fiance, while deploring ignorance when it comes to a matter of his beloved players being unfairly targeted?

The answer, of course, is that it’s not okay. None of this is okay, from Rice’s attack to the initial two game suspension to the current circus-like atmosphere that the case has taken on. While it’s unclear what direction this case is headed, one thing is apparently obvious.

The NFL is an increasingly corrupt organization which will go to great lengths to hide anything which may damage its public image. A public image will continue to be tarnished every day except Sunday, when we’re all supposed to forget about the corruption and enjoy the product on the field.