The ineptitude of the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice situation has become a story that transcends the world of sports, and the era of Roger Goodell as commissioner will one day be recognized as the catalyst for the death of the NFL.
Women’s rights groups, members of the media and retired NFL players are calling for the resignation of Goodell, the man who has led the NFL to record profits over the last few years. And, they have good reason to.
The first strike for Goodell and the NFL was ignoring the scientifically proven dangers of concussions and misleading players into believing that hits to the head weren’t a big deal. The second strike was allowing the franchise in Washington D.C. to continue to use a racial slur as its team nickname, even after countless Native Americans have spoken against it.
Strike three is upon us.
In February, Rice, one of the most popular players for the Baltimore Ravens, punched his then-fiancée in the face during an argument at an Atlantic City casino. He also spat on her and left her lying on the floor like a wounded dog after knocking her out. Naturally, both Rice and his eventual wife Janay Palmer were charged with domestic violence.
Five months went by. A New Jersey judge decided that, due to his previously clean record, he could avoid jail time by undergoing a pre-trial intervention program. This was an egregious mistake that is entirely incongruent with how most assaulters are treated. And yet, it has become a side note in the context of what happened next.
When Goodell became NFL commissioner (effectively the league’s CEO) in 2006, he immediately developed a reputation for maintaining a hard-line resolve regarding player punishments. That reputation is now a distant memory. For seemingly no reason, he waited five months after Rice’s arrest to dole out any punishment. He eventually handed Rice a two-game suspension.
Two whole games for punching his fiancée in the face and knocking her unconscious.
For context, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was initially suspended for the entire 2014 season, 16 games, after being caught smoking weed, an act that is legal in two states and has been decriminalized in many more. Punching a woman in the face remains illegal in all 50 states. It has not been decriminalized either – except by the NFL, it appears.
The backlash was severe. And it reached a tipping point when, on Sept. 8, TMZ released a video showing exactly what everyone already knew had happened: Rice punching Palmer in the face. The Ravens voided his contract, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. But, why the sudden change?
Goodell is a wholly reactionary leader. He only made the correct decision to ban Rice from the NFL until it was too late to matter, only acting once it became economically imperative to do so. Evidence is indicating, furthermore, that this screw-up of massive proportions wasn’t simply an act of incompetence or negligence, but rather, a full-blown cover-up.
Goodell said Rice was ambiguous in describing what occurred that night in Atlantic City. He used this reasoning to validate his decision to only increase Rice’s suspension after TMZ released the most recent video.
Outside the Lines, however, has reported that Goodell’s account is simply not true. According to a source, “(Rice) told the full truth to Goodell — he made it clear he had hit her, and he told Goodell he was sorry and that it wouldn't happen again.”
The commissioner also said that the NFL couldn’t legally request the video of Rice assaulting Palmer from the Atlantic City casino. The New Jersey attorney general has come out and said that this is also false.
And lastly, Goodell asserted that no one in the NFL had seen the video of Rice assaulting Palmer until Sept. 8. However, the Associated Press has reported that the video was sent to the NFL offices three months ago.
These are just a few of the blatant lies and incredible mistakes from Goodell recently. I haven’t even touched the fact that when interviewing Palmer about the night she was assaulted, he allowed Rice to sit right next to her, an obvious mistreatment of any domestic violence victim.
The NFL is by far the most popular sports league in the country. It is so culturally pervasive and economically powerful that most assume it will dominate American sports for decades to come. But it won’t – not with Goodell at the helm, at least.
This scandal is not going to die. Goodell is either so incompetent that he’s incapable of running the league effectively, or so drunk with power that he believes he can get away with anything. Either way, the NFL hasn’t shown any indications that it is going to make amends to bring women back into the fold or regain its fans’ trust.
There is a groundswell building against the NFL and the sport of football as a whole. Parents are growing increasingly reluctant to allow their kids to play such a violent sport, fearing the potential ramifications of suffering concussions at a young age. And, casual fans are growing repulsed by the needless disregard of respect for Native Americans and women.
Rice beats up his fiancée, and at first only receives a two-game suspension. Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers is arrested for domestic assault, but is allowed to continue playing. Does the NFL even remotely understand why this is seen as a major sign of disrespect to women as a whole?
The 49ers are saying McDonald should be able to keep playing because he deserves ‘due process,’ and that they can’t suspend him before his date in court. That’s ridiculous. They are only keeping him active because he is good at football and helps them win games.
The Minnesota Vikings deactivated Adrian Peterson quickly after his indictment in a child injury case last week. Legally, they didn’t have to, but they realized some things are more important than football.
The Vikings, however, are the outlier. In the NFL, it’s all about winning, because winning is all about money. Everything else is secondary. Goodell and the NFL don’t care if women are assaulted, if Native Americans are disrespected or if players are treated as concussed commodities. All that matters is the bottom line.
I love watching NFL football, but I hate everything it stands for. I’m starting to feel guilty about how excited I am for every Sunday’s slate of games. And I know I’m not the only one.
It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s probably going to take decades.
But, make no mistake – the death of the NFL is upon us.