Let’s get the easy part out of the way first. Most of us can agree that the actions of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Kevin Hardy, Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer, among others, were despicable, cowardly, very likely criminal, and have no place in our society. There are many aspects of these incidents, but in the interests of time and space I will focus on three of them: (1) the actions, or inactions, of Roger Goodell and the NFL, (2) what is the appropriate football-related penalty, and (3) how these incidents relate to how men, in general, treat women and children in our society.
Regarding the Ray Rice incident, as more and more evidence comes to light, there seems to be little doubt that the NFL and/or the Baltimore Ravens acted improperly. Ray Rice was a star and the face of the Ravens franchise. As such, he appears to have received “star” treatment. A marginal player might very well have been treated more harshly. Both the team and the league knew considerably more in February and in the intervening months than the public has been led to believe. We don’t know what Roger Goodell knew personally or what he merely suspected. I believe that he was shielded intentionally by subordinates to give him plausible deniability. The same is true for the owner of the Baltimore Ravens. This is a time-honored tactic among leaders everywhere. Former President Harry Truman famously declared “the buck stops here.” In reality, in most cases, the buck never even gets to the President’s Office.
According to “Outside the Lines,” which has done an extremely thorough job of reporting on this incident, Messrs. Goodell and Biscotti both assiduously avoided actually viewing the video or even obtaining firsthand information from those who did see it, such as Ray Rice’s lawyer or the mysterious NFL staff person who supposedly received it. Thus, Mr. Goodell had “cover” to impose only a two game penalty. In any event, I maintain that a leader should not and cannot ever use willful blindness as an excuse. It’s a leader’s responsibility to be cognizant of problems and potential problems, and if he is not, that is an indication of weakness, if not downright incompetence. That goes not only for Commissioner Goodell but also for any leader from President Obama on down to the shift supervisor on the assembly line.
There now seems little doubt that Mr. Goodell engaged in willful blindness to minimize the impact on a star player who had become the face of the Ravens franchise, hence the initial decision to impose only a two-week suspension. Mr. Biscotti was also close to Mr. Goodell and a strong supporter. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the rest of us, the second video surfaced eventually.
Those who have been condemning Mr. Goodell for willful blindness and demanding he resign should be mindful that Mr. Obama has been using it as an excuse for six years. With respect to every scandal, including the IRS targeting certain groups for political reasons, the Benghazi massacre, NSA surveillance, and the Obamacare rollout, to name a few, his response has been “I didn’t know,” or “I heard about it on the news.” Ironic and inconsistent, but that’s a subject for another blog on another day. I especially have a bone to pick with women’s advocacy groups, such as NOW, that have been vociferous about these incidents but have heretofore been strangely silent on domestic violence as a whole, especially in the Muslim world. That inconsistency bothers me. Where has the outrage been before now?
Let’s all keep in mind that Mr. Goodell has taken corrective action. He (1) apologized, (2) launched an internal investigation, and (3) announced that the NFL would be implementing a new players’ personal conduct policy. One can argue that he didn’t go far enough or get specific enough, but I say give the NFL time to get it right. For one thing, they have to get the players’ union, whose job is to protect players’ rights, on board.
What would be the appropriate football-related penalty in these types of cases? I have heard many opinions ranging all the way up to a lifetime ban. It’s an emotional subject. To me, the main issue to iron out is that not all incidents are equal. Is it a first offense or part of a pattern? Has the player actually been indicted, convicted by a jury or merely accused? False accusations may not be the norm, but they do occur. Remember the Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger, and Duke Lacrosse cases. It is not one size fits all. Take the time to get it right.
Most of us can agree that these incidents are not limited to the NFL, or even to athletes in general. Rather, they are indicative of and consistent with a broader domestic abuse problem in our society as a whole. Football is a violent game and the NFL can be a violent place. In addition, most players, in order to be successful, develop a violent, aggressive edge when they play that is not easily turned off when they leave the field. I am not making excuses, just stating the situation. I am not cognizant of any conclusive evidence that the issue is more prevalent in the NFL than in society as a whole. One can argue that the high profile of the league and its players has created the impression that it is. Additionally, much of the domestic abuse among lower profile persons is not reported to the authorities for various socio-economic reasons.
CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION
Mr. Goodell has stated he has not considered resigning. I don’t think that his actions or inactions to date have risen to the level where he should lose his job. He has the backing of the owners, who are his employers, including John Mara, Robert Klein, and Art Rooney, three of the more influential ones. He made a mistake, and he has apologized for it and commenced corrective actions. We have all made mistakes in our lives. Americans believe in second chances. Let’s wait and see what happens prospectively.
The only thing that could cause Mr. Goodell to lose his job would be a revolt by the sponsors. That would impact the league’s revenue stream. That is highly unlikely. So far, the sponsors have been willing to let the NFL work through this. Yes, a few like Anheuser Busch and Pepsi, have expressed concern, but there is very little chance that they or any other sponsor will cease advertising with the NFL. Can you imagine an executive of one of those companies having the temerity to recommend dropping the NFL to his boss? That would be a non-starter. There is too much money to be made, and a competitor would be perfectly willing to replace them. The NFL brand is too popular and too lucrative. People love to watch it, gamble on it and play fantasy football. After all, we all know it’s all about money in this world.
As long as the NFL is perceived to be working on a solution most people will be satisfied, and I predict they will reach a satisfactory resolution in due course. Also, my cynical side says that eventually some high-profile celebrity will do something stupid to attract the media, and the public will move on.