The National Football League (NFL) has a problem. That problem is not attendance, or lockouts or popularity. The problem is domestic violence. Domestic violence is rarely spoken about in our culture, at least until August of this year. February 2014, Ray Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was charged with assaulting his now-wife, Janay Palmer. He was subsequently arrested and was eventually indicted on third-degree aggravated assault charges a month later. TMZ, the celebrity ‘news site,’ released a video of Rice dragging his wife out of an elevator. And while many people reacted to the video, it did not garner the attention one would expect for something so horrific.
The couple moved up their wedding, tying the knot at the end of March, a day before Rice’s hearing, after having planned a summer wedding. The charges were dropped as Rice agreed to court-supervised counseling. May 23rd, the Ravens hosted a press conference during which Rice apologized for the “situation he and his wife” were in, and, according to Palmer, on the urging of the Ravens organization, she publicly apologized for her role in the incident. The victim apologized for being assaulted, as if she had equal blame.
The NFL reacted to the allegations and the indictment. The NFL ruled to give Rice a two-game suspension, a punishment with which I disagreed. I am sure many others did too. The Ravens, I imagine, were ecstatic concerning that ruling. They would get their star running back for 14 games – nearly 90 percent of the regular season. The NFL punished a man who assaulted his wife, and, I also imagine, the League was happy with that.
The Baltimore Ravens received a lot of criticism for the way they handled the Ray Rice situation, and rightfully so. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, announced that the NFL would put a new domestic violence policy into practice: a six-game suspension without pay for the first offense and a lifetime NFL ban for the second. Again, the NFL was happy. They were proactive in handling issues of domestic violence.
Then TMZ released the other video. Up until this point, everyone had only seen Rice pulling an unconscious Janay out of the elevator. What happened inside of it was relatively unknown. The other video was footage from inside of that elevator. If you have not seen the video, be warned: it is brutal and disturbing. The 205-pound running back viciously punched his fiancé, knocking her unconscious with a single blow to the head. What happened on that elevator was no longer a mystery. And the NFL, the Ravens and Ray Rice were subject to a justifiably huge amount of scrutiny.
Goodell immediately went to his own defense. He suspended Rice indefinitely. He claimed that he was unaware of the other video. He claimed that the account told by Rice was significantly different than what actually occurred. Goodell was trying to save the NFL’s reputation, and most notably, his own. The Ravens, the same organization that had encouraged Palmer to apologize and take blame for the assault, cut Rice.
Domestic violence is awful, and I am in no way condoning what Ray Rice did to his fiancé on that elevator. But in addition to domestic violence, there is a much larger social issue at play in the face of this terrible incident. The NFL and Roger Goodell have far too much power. The NFL and the Ravens denounced a violent act by a player in hopes of preserving the potential profit that they could make from his performance. A two game suspension was a slap on the wrist. An indefinite suspension completely contradicted the new domestic violence policy that was put into place by the NFL. The league ignored the fact that the Ravens organization coaxed Palmer into taking responsibility for the assault. They under reacted, and then they overreacted, and now they look foolish trying to make amends.
Unfortunately, had that video never been released, Ray Rice would be playing this Sunday, and he would be playing for the Ravens. As it currently stands, Rice appealed his indefinite suspension, and he won. He is a free agent and can return to the NFL – well, as soon as someone signs him.
I take significant issue with the way that the NFL and the Ravens handled the situation. Both were fine with the two-game suspension until there was scrutiny that followed the second tape. Rice did not lie to either organization. According to multiple reports, what Rice told Goodell and the Ravens in regards to what happened on that elevator was very similar to the actions seen on the second tape. Additionally, it is reported by the Associated Press that the NFL office had received that tape from law enforcement officials.
Of course, Goodell denies ever seeing it. He launched an investigation with former FBI director Robert Mueller at the helm. There are serious questions in regards to the influence Goodell is going to have in the investigation findings. Those findings have yet to be released.
The NFL is apparently trying to take strides in fighting domestic violence, and not just in the cases relating to players. If you watched any professional football over the Thanksgiving break, you probably saw the commercial with current and former players staring at the camera, silent. The point of the commercial was to demonstrate that domestic violence is an issue that is difficult to talk about. Most of us are aware that it is a difficult subject to address. So, why didn’t they actually say something?
It seems to me that the NFL does not want to take full responsibility of the issue. Goodell wants to maintain an appearance of care, but he does not want to change a culture that allows him to prosper. He made $44 million last year. He is at risk to lose a lot. If this were an isolated incident, I would understand why the NFL is relatively relaxed in regards to domestic violence after the Ray Rice. Keep in mind, a player currently receives a greater penalty for testing positive for marijuana than domestic violence. At least five other NFL players have been accused, arrested or suspended for domestic violence in the last six months alone. Most famously, Adrian Peterson, the star Minnesota Vikings running back, pled no contest to reckless assault charges for disciplining his son with a branch. Arizona Cardinal Michael Dwyer was also accused of aggravated assault on his wife.
And the issue is not only in the NFL. University of Missouri star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from Tiger football team after pushing a girl down a flight of stairs.
In my opinion, Roger Goodell should not be the commissioner of the NFL any longer. He was negligent, arrogant, greedy and cold in his handling of the Ray Rice case. He felt no social responsibility to correct the actions of men belonging to his organization until the true brutality of these actions were brought out into the light of day. It is unfortunate that Janay Rice, Adrian Peterson’s son and many other victims had to suffer to expose the prevalence of domestic violence within our culture to the general public. Social change should arise from these cases. I do not think that change will occur with Roger Goodell leading the NFL. He will downplay the significance of domestic violence to maintain his own image and bank account because he knows that he handled the case poorly.
I am going to generalize here, and I do so knowing that I am including myself in that generalization. Most cases of domestic violence occur at the hands of a man. Granted, there are exceptions. Just type ‘Hope Solo, domestic violence,’ which is another issue entirely in regards to domestic violence and athletics, into your favorite search engine. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), there are approximately 1.3 million women assaulted every year by an intimate male partner. That’s 85 percent of the domestic violence cases in the country. Something needs to change.
The NFL turns pink during November to honor breast cancer awareness. That is great. As a result, a lot of money has gone toward breast cancer research. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 230,000 cases of breast cancer are diagnosed per year in the United States. That is less than one fifth of the number of women subject to domestic violence. Rather than play a commercial during games that only reiterates the difficult nature of the subject, the NFL should dedicate a month or a week, like they do for the armed services, to domestic violence. The NFL is one of the most powerful corporations in the United States. They represent a demographic of people who are rarely subject to domestic violence. Their advocacy could do so much to raise awareness and educate society. Just think of the social change could bring about if the NFL partnered with the NCADV. I think a good way for the NFL to make up for its lapses in social responsibility (under reacting to Rice, etc.) would be to become leaders in the movement for preventing domestic violence.
Do I think Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and other professional athletes deserve a second chance to compete? Yes. Do I think that they should be fairly punished with suspension or jail time? Most definitely. I do not blame the NFL for these instances of domestic violence, and I do not think that anyone should. But the NFL needs to accept responsibility for their players and their players’ actions. I blame the NFL for its insufficient reaction to early cases of domestic violence. I blame it for its secrecy and greed regarding the Ray Rice case. I blame it for keeping Goodell as the commissioner after he blatantly chose to give Rice a slap on the wrist while being aware of what occurred on that elevator. I believe the NFL has two choices that it can make. It can do the bare minimum. The NFL can punish players as cases come in, as stated in the new policy on domestic violence. Or the NFL can become a leading organization in social change. It can proactively advocate for domestic violence.
The league has an enormous amount of resources that it can use to educate America, fund organizations like the NCADV and decrease the number of domestic violence cases in the United States. I sincerely hope the NFL chooses the latter. Football is at the epicenter of domestic violence in the NFL. As the highest, most powerful organization in the sport, the National Football League has a social responsibility to do something good.