It’s too little, too late for Goodell
Greg Hadley | Thursday, August 28, 2014
Yesterday, according to an ESPN report, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL owners announcing new punishments for domestic violence: a six-game suspension for first-time offenders and a possible lifetime ban for a second violation.
Now, Goodell has drawn an enormous amount of criticism in his time as commissioner. There are problems with the league’s substance abuse policy, its concussion protocol and the absurd amount of fines that get handed out. Heck, Saints tight end Jimmy Graham can’t even dunk a football because Goodell is afraid he might pull the goalposts down. But he was completely correct with this decision. I only wish he had made it a little earlier.
Domestic violence is one of the most appalling crimes a person can commit, and there is absolutely no justification for it. When a person harms another human being they should be caring for, the mental scars last longer than the physical. Such a disgusting reversal of what should be a loving relationship is a heart-rending betrayal that can leave victims with years of psychological problems. It would seem obvious the NFL does not endorse anything approaching this kind of behavior.
Yet less than two months ago, Goodell decided Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice only deserved a two-game suspension for knocking his then-fiancee unconscious and being charged with aggravated assault. Two games. An eighth of the NFL season. His total loss of income? About $500,000, according to league sources. His contract is worth $35 million.
How Goodell could have ever thought such a punishment was acceptable, is beyond me. This is the same commissioner who suspended Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon for a season after Brown tested positive for marijuana a second time in his career.
Granted, Rice has acted considerably more repentant than Gordon, but substance abuse is a far cry from domestic violence. There shouldn’t even be a comparison at all. The fact that Rice and his fiancee have since reconciled and married is no reason for such a minuscule punishment. Obviously none of us know everything about Rice’s relationship with his wife, but by not suspending him for longer, the NFL missed an opportunity to show people that actions have consequences. Domestic violence should not be tolerated in any way and refusing to discipline those who commit it in a meaningful way sends the message that the NFL doesn’t really care what its players do.
Normally, I’m in favor of keeping professional athletes’ personal lives separate from their play on the field. I don’t watch a game because I think these guys are role models. I know that some of them are probably jerks, or worse. But this is different. Because violence against women — or any person for that matter — is never okay, and the kind of person that would do such a thing needs serious help, not a place on the football field. I get it, football is a violent sport. But that does not make it more important than real life, and people should be able to realize what’s more important.
Michael Vick was suspended and went to jail for operating a dog-fighting ring. Doesn’t Rice deserve something similar for abusing a fellow person, not to mention the woman he is supposed to love?
And while Goodell was right to admit his mistake now, Rice’s incident is not the first chance he had to address such a serious topic. The suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who also murdered his girlfriend with their daughter in the next room, in 2012, was an opportunity for Goodell to let people know the NFL takes domestic violence seriously.
To be fair, Goodell acknowledged in the letter that he had made a mistake in Rice’s case. But that doesn’t mean the suspension will be lengthened. Rice will still be back in Week 3, which is a problem. It’s a problem when the NFL takes drug tests more seriously than criminal charges. That has to change. This new policy is a good first step. Now Goodell should follow through on it.
I like Ray Rice, the football player. He’s exciting and dynamic to watch. I look forward to seeing him play again one day. I also believe that he knows what he did was wrong and is sorry for it. I hope he follows Vick’s example and becomes a vocal advocate against domestic violence. I hope he and his wife have a wonderful relationship. But if we want people to realize that domestic violence is inexcusable, two games is not enough.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.