The NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy states, “All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League. This requirement applies to players, coaches, other team employees, owners, game officials and all others privileged to work in the National Football League.”
Roger Goodell fell short in his punishment for Baltimore’s running back, Ray Rice. Rice found himself amidst headlines for his actions in Atlantic City. On February 15th, he was arrested for assault in what was a domestic dispute between he and his, at the time fiancée, Janay Palmer. A security camera captured footage of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator. While there is no video released to the public of what exactly transpired leading up to that event, it was said in the court summons that both Rice and Palmer had struck each other. Since then, Rice married Palmer and court was dismissed as Rice reached a settlement and charges against Palmer were dropped shortly after the initial arrest.
Ray Rice was handed a two-game suspension by the NFL. He publicly apologized for his actions at a press conference saying, “I’ve made the biggest mistake of my life. Me. She can do no wrong. She’s an angel.” Rice appeared genuine and truly remorseful in his apology. On Friday, Goodell publicly spoke about Rice’s suspension for the first time since it was handed down. He praised Rice, “I was also very impressed with Ray in the sense that Ray is not only accepting this issue but he’s saying, ‘I was wrong.’ I want to see people, when they make a mistake, I want to see them take responsibility and be accountable for it.”
While Ray Rice was standing up to his mistakes, Roger Goodell just reaffirmed a big one. Since the news and video first broke out about Ray Rice getting arrested, the NFL has treated this issue more as a PR fiasco than a domestic violence issue. It was viewed as a distraction to the team and something that needed to be swept up and taken care of right away. Palmer and Rice sat side-by-side earlier in the year at a press conference where the world watched Palmer apologize for her “role that night.” Rice kept it more general, apologizing for “the situation he and his wife was in.” The first press conference lacked the honesty and sincerity that the most recent one embodied. It appeared as an attempt to save their star running back’s image.
For Goodell to say that Rice’s punishment is “consistent” with past cases and suspensions is ludicrous. What kind of message is he, as the commissioner of the NFL, trying to send to the viewers? Especially to the female fan base of the NFL, which accounts for 45% of viewers. A number of NFL teams are currently under fire regarding their cheerleading squads, with various lawsuits afoot addressing how severely underpaid they are, or the harassment they face while working. The average NFL cheerleader makes $500-$750 a season, while a team’s mascot can make anywhere from $23,000-$65,000 a year.
Back in 2010, Ben Roethlisberger was accused of rape for a second time. Roethlisberger was not charged and was free to walk as there was a lack of strong evidence to really drive the case forward. However, he was still handed a six-game suspension by the NFL for violating their Personal Conduct Policy (which would later be brought down to four games). Where’s the consistency here? How about when Terrelle Pryor was suspended for five-games for what he did in college at Ohio State? Sure, he broke the rules of the NCAA by accepting a few tattoos and gifts, but Goodell never elaborated on why he was given a NFL suspension. Back in 2011, Vikings’ cornerback Chris Cook was suspended 10 games for domestic violence. He was also able to walk a free man after being acquitted in trial. It all just does not make sense. Suspension lengths are all over the board.
Perhaps this will lead to discussion and eventually action on how future punishments should be handled. The NFL needs to develop a standard for all misconduct. While there is a set rule for substance abuse, they need to shed more light on personal conduct issues. Since these matters are not always black or white and can contain a lot of variables, there should be a jury or a panel of sorts to decide on what is appropriate. If a group of people makes a decision, there should be less to fuss over. Right now, the system lends itself to being a monarchy – one man is calling all the shots. He is judge, jury, and executioner. A jury of sorts would remedy this issue. Let Goodell focus on NFL operations, and let the jury enforce the laws. Goodell let the women, who watch and enjoy the NFL, down with his decision, or indecision on how he acted upon Ray Rice’s suspension. It is counterproductive to the NFL’s goal each year to increase the female fan base and target more viewers. How can he say the meager two-game suspension was appropriate, and then have the NFL don pink cleats, gloves, bands, etc. in support of women and breast cancer? Unfortunately, Goodell’s inconsistency in punishing misconduct within the organization makes the NFL’s good-willed gestures appear rather hollow and insincere.