Two-plus years ago, on August 28, 2014, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice two games for assaulting his then girlfriend, Janay Palmer. Less than two weeks later, on September 8, TMZ.com published video of the incident that showed Rice knocking out Palmer with a punch in an elevator.
The NFL reacted quickly. The team cut Rice, the league suspended him indefinitely, and the predictable game of Cover Your Ass began. The league claimed they hadn’t seen the tape beforehand and law enforcement claimed they’d sent the tape to the NFL offices at the league’s request. The Ravens’ owner apologized, saying he didn’t know how bad the situation was, but Rice said he told his team the entire story beforehand.
The NFL paid former FBI director Robert Mueller to investigate what happened. And the league “liaison” for Mueller was Giants owner John Mara (remember that name and the team he owns). Mueller gave the NFL a pass in a report that Mara actually had final say over.
Fast-forward to the present, and it appears history is repeating itself. In August, Giants’ kicker Josh Brown was suspended one game for domestic violence related to an incident with his now ex-wife, Molly. Under the new and (supposedly) improved Personal Conduct Policy, Josh Brown faced a standard six-game suspension that could have been extended to up to twelve games. But the NFL claims he received the more lenient punishment because Molly and local law enforcement wouldn’t cooperate with the league investigation.
Then it came out that reports of Brown’s past abuse were in the criminal complaint. And four days ago, those documents became public. They revealed a long pattern of domestic abuse by Brown, detailing up to 20 incidents.
Of course, the NFL acted quickly – after the facts became public. The Giants did not take Brown to their game in London this week, and the league placed him on the Commissioner Exempt List. That allows allows Brown to keep getting paid while the league figures out what to do next.
Finally, if those scenarios didn’t seem similar enough to you, consider that Mara admitted that he knew about Brown’s past abuse, but decided the one-game suspension was okay with him. That’s right, the same man who oversaw communication between the NFL and Mueller during his investigation of the Ray Rice situation didn’t think multiple incidents of domestic violence constituted enough of a pattern to suspend or cut Brown on his own.
Just like in 2014, the league and the team hoped a shortish suspension would placate the public. Just like in 2014, the team knew the situation was worse than what had been reported. And just like in 2014, the league’s poor handling of the situation blew up in their face.
Brown should have his penalty updated to a lifetime ban from the NFL. After all, that’s the prescribed punishment for a second domestic violence incident – which Brown has 20-times over. He’s had a nice career. It’s time to give him the time and space to build himself into a better man.
(Note: the league and the team should also get Brown into a program to deal with his anger and violence issues. And since they failed his ex-wife, they should help her in any way they can, too.)
It’s obvious the NFL hasn’t learned much, if anything, from the Ray Rice situation. So with all that as prologue, what should the league do about their habitual botching of their Personal Conduct Policy? Here are three suggestions:
Stop Playing Favorites
Roger Goodell plays favorites, it’s obvious. Ray Rice and Josh Brown got paltry suspensions because the owners involved are part of the NFL “in crowd.” On the other hand, Greg Hardy got ten games for domestic violence (later reduced to four) because the owner in Carolina isn’t among the cool kids who hang with Goodell at recess.
The NFL Office needs to stop doing favors for owners they like. Players too, by the way (for example, Peyton “What Al Jazeera report?” Manning and Ray “deer-antler spray” Lewis). Enforcing justice unequally makes it injustice, and the Commissioner himself needs take responsibility for his failures in this regard.
Improve The Policy
On domestic violence, a six-game suspension should just be the beginning. Players need to be put in diversion programs, and the victims of their violence need support from the league – even if that means helping them leave the relationship so they can stay safe.
A six-week hiatus from football does nothing to help players rebuild their lives and remove violence from their relationship vocabularies. Goodell should use the Commissioner Exempt List to give players time to work through their issues, take responsibility for their actions, and help them become better human beings.
Only then should they be considered for reinstatement.
Give It Up
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA) is on record that they want player discipline removed from the Commissioner’s Office. The NFL is on record that the NFLPA will have to negotiate something to get that power taken away.
That is ass-backwards. The NFL should be begging the NFLPA to allow them to assign this power to an independent arbiter. Or at least some entity separate from the Commissioner’s Office. Anything to get it off of Goodell’s desk, permanently.
Goodell is a public relations nightmare. I’ve got friends who literally gave up on watching NFL games – for the rest of their lives – because they can’t support a league that mishandled domestic violence so badly.
Owners should want to remove enforcement of the Personal Conduct Policy removed from Goodell. But of course, they want him to keep that power. Because they all think he will do them a solid the next time they have a player arrested for domestic violence. Or if one of their players comes up in the newspaper report implicating players in a PED scandal.
One Last Thought
Goodell will take a bullet for myopic owners; that’s why they will keep him as Commissioner for years to come. But that won’t help the next Janay Palmer/Rice or Molly Brown. And the next woman might not be lucky enough to survive the incident with her husband/boyfriend.
The NFL should think long and hard about that.