By Steve Kallas
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Well, you knew that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had to come out of hiding and comment on the inexplicably (still) lenient two-game suspension to Ray Rice for allegedly knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in an Atlantic City casino elevator back in February.
Goodell had to show up to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and, of course, was inundated with questions in Canton, Ohio. As you would expect, in the land of the powerful (the NFL), Goodell didn’t back down an inch. He maintained, over and over, about how “we have a very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable” and “we have to remain consistent,” presumably in the punishment of first-time offenders.
He repeatedly said, especially when he was obviously not happy with some of the reporters, some variation of “you have to respond to facts here.”
Well, here are some facts:
FACT ONE: BEN ROETHLISBERGER IN 2010
In March of 2010, a 20-year-old college student accused Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger of sexual assault in a Georgia nightclub. On or about April 14, 2010, local prosecutors decided not to charge Roethlisberger with any crime.
One week later, on April 21, 2010, the NFL announced that Roethlisberger would be suspended for six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy,
Quotes from Goodell’s letter to Roethlisberger: “The Personal Conduct Policy makes clear that I may impose discipline ‘even when the conduct does not result in conviction of a crime’ as, for example, where the conduct ‘imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person.’ ”
After saying that Roethlisberger had contributed to the excessive consumption of alcohol by underage college students, Goodell concluded that, “There is no question that the excessive consumption of alcohol that evening put the students and yourself at risk.”
Goodell also wrote that, “The Personal Conduct Policy also states that discipline is appropriate for conduct that ‘undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.’ By any measure, your conduct satisfies that standard.”
Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for SIX games. Eventually, the suspension was reduced to four games. Note, also, that while he was accused of a sexual assault, the suspension was for aiding underage students in the excessive consumption of alcohol. Indeed, Roethlisberger had been accused of a different sexual assault from 2008, but the NFL apparently took no action with respect to that accusation (which led to a civil suit that was settled out of court). It would seem that Roethlisberger was a first-time offender and it wasn’t even for sexual assault. Just bizarre.
As you know, Ray Rice got two games, presumably for domestic abuse.
Any questions so far?
FACT TWO: RAY RICE ALLEGEDLY KNOCKED HIS NOW-WIFE UNCONSCIOUS
Although the public hasn’t seen it, there apparently is footage of what happened inside the elevator (which somehow, someday, somebody will leak to the media). According to published sources, the two had a physical altercation in the elevator that ended with Ms. Palmer being knocked out and, as we all have seen, being dragged unconscious out of the elevator.
According to Karen Jarmoc of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, part of the recovery for abusers is to fully acknowledge what the abuser did to the abused. In his second press conference last Thursday, Rice didn’t quite get there.
He gave a “Jason Giambi” apology that is, as Giambi did with respect to performance enhancing drugs, saying, in essence, I apologize and I apologize profusely, I’m just not going to say what I am apologizing for. Rice was asked point blank at least twice as to exactly what happened and he refused both times to answer the question.
While certainly seeming sincere, Rice never explained what actually happened. But he, nevertheless, tried to send a message to kids: “I still got kids out there wearing 27 (his Ravens number, of course) jerseys and I just wanna tell them that, you know, please don’t make the mistake I did.”
You will have to excuse a young kid who still doesn’t quite know exactly what Ray Rice did to his now wife.
Full acknowledgement? Not exactly.
Ms. Jarmoc of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence also didn’t buy that this was a one-time incident. Talking about abuse as a “pattern of behavior” and “a learned behavior,” she said, “most cases don’t happen overnight.”
While press conference No. 2 was much better than press conference No. 1 (where somebody without a brain let Mrs. Rice up on the dais to say “I want to apologize for my role in this incident”), Ms. Jarmoc categorized press conference two as “three steps forward and possibly 10 steps back.”
But you can’t blame Ray Rice for the lenient length of his two-game suspension.
All the credit for that goes to the Commissioner.
THE COMMISSIONER’S INCONSISTENCIES
Aside from the general stupidity of the lenient sentence (domestic abuse as a first-time offense should really be considered more seriously than virtually any other first-time offense), it’s hard to believe that seemingly intelligent people got into a room and signed off on this punishment. Were there any women in the room? Did anybody discuss the video that was already out to the public (it’s still sickening to see)? Did anybody in the room mention the name Ben Roethlisberger? If the NFL wants to be transparent, shouldn’t there be more transparency as to the process?
Nobody at the NFL understood the power of video where everybody can see the proof (as opposed to cases where there is no proof). In cases like the Ray Rice case, where the world sees what happens, one would expect more intelligence from the powers-that-be. If prior cases did result in lesser suspensions, that was probably due to the lack of video evidence and/or the he-said, she-said nature of such cases.
In 2010, the Commissioner cited the Personal Conduct Policy as allowing him to impose discipline (in that case, six games), even if no crime was charged, if the conduct imposed an inherent danger to the well being of another person. In 2014 in Canton, he cited the fact that the authorities decided to impose no discipline as a seeming reason to defend a lower two-game suspension. Backwards logic, no?
In 2010 he held that there was “no question” that contributing to underage college students drinking alcohol put the students and Roethlisberger “at risk,” resulting in a six-game suspension. In 2014, it would seem clear that an NFL player allegedly knocking his fiancee unconscious in an elevator might have put his fiancee “at risk.” But only to the tune of two games?
In 2010, “by any measure,” Roethlisberger’s conduct (with respect to underage drinking) undermined or put at risk “the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players,” resulting in a six-game suspension. In 2014, one would think that “the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players” was put even more “at risk” when an NFL player allegedly knocks out his fiancee. So, two-game suspension. Really?
Many have talked about how “tone deaf” the NFL is on this issue. But, of course, it’s much worse than that. The NFL has no understanding that it is unwise to involve the abused person in the process. There are many levels to that, but most experts will tell you it’s a mistake to involve her at all. She’s in a very tough spot. And while a number of sports males are talking about the fact that this is between a man and a woman who are now married, that thinking is becoming prehistoric. One of the reasons that domestic abuse is so prevalent today is exactly that: many have been conditioned to “look the other way” when it comes to a couple and their relationship.
It’s a very slippery slope to support that notion today, both in and out of sports.
SO, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Well, apparently nothing. This suspension won’t be changed. (Maybe the next one will be harsher?) The gross misjudgment by the Commissioner and his advisers has cast a pall over the NFL. Of course, that won’t stop them from making billions of dollars this year and beyond.
But the foot-dragging on the concussion issue (the NFL wasn’t just late to the party; it had to be dragged to the party kicking and screaming) and now the seeming inability to have any understanding about domestic violence (and the reaction of women and many right-minded men to that lack of understanding) will have many people looking sideways at the NFL for years to come. Talk about a blow to the “integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL teams, or NFL players.”
A national disgrace?
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