Latest NFL mess: Ray Rice suspension mocks domestic abuse punishment


Call it the No Fun League, or the biggest of all the sports giants, this side of futbol, but the NFL just can’t seem to get it right — as it adds another crisis to its unending list.

It’s almost like it’s either immune to public opinion, or has gotten so used to cashing billion-dollar checks that it just doesn’t care.

One of its teams uses a racist nickname; players seem to show up more in crime lineups than scorecards; the game itself is so violent that federal judges can’t find a ceiling for how much money damaged-for-life players should receive in compensation for their injuries; one of its most prominent team owners was arrested on suspicion of drug possession; the tight end of the league’s showcase team, the New England Patriots, stands accused of multiple murder; and now the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens All-Pro running back Ray Rice for two games for punching his girlfriend in the head and knocking her out.

Are you kidding me? If  you or I did that, we’d go to jail — or should. If our employer found out about it, we’d be lucky to retain our job. Sure, Rice will forfeit more salary than most of us make in a year, but this is an affront to society, to abused partners everywhere and an ongoing crisis for the NFL.

This is how Mike Freeman characterized it on bleacherreport.com.

The message here is clear: Ladies, we like that you watch football. We like that you buy NFL merchandise. We love that you give us your money, but if one of our players punches you in the face, well, hell—sorry, but you are on your own, homegirl. This is yet another signal that the NFL doesn’t care nearly enough about domestic violence. This may be the best signal yet.

Donald Sterling made racist comments and the NBA took away his team. Ray Rice punches out his girlfriend in an Atlantic City casino elevator, drops her unconscious on the floor outside, and he rides the bench for two hours. Like everything else, there’s security camera videotape. You can’t make up this stuff.

And this isn’t about Rice, or his now wife, Janay. It’s about the NFL and it’s penchant for saying one thing and doing another. Isn’t that called hypocrisy? The NFL has so many raging crises Commissioner Roger Goodell must have to take off his shoes and socks to count them all.

Michael Powell, writing today in The New York Times, summed it up:

Here comes Commissioner Roger Goodell. The tousle-haired commissioner is a football lifer, having spent his career inside the N.F.L., which is another way of saying he knows from psychotic behavior. He has dealt with large men and their brandished pistols, their assault rifles, their beat-downs, their accidental shootings and their many and varied misbehaviors. A few years ago, he dealt with Ben Roethlisberger, the star quarterback and toast of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was accused of what sounded a bit like rape in a bar. Goodell suspended him four entire games.

Vacations are hard to come by for Goodell. Last season the commissioner had a real headache. Aaron Hernandez, the New England Patriots’ Pro Bowl tight end, stood accused of shooting bullets into the chest, stomach and head of three people, all of whom are dead. The Patriots quickly released Hernandez for, among other malefactions, conduct detrimental to the N.F.L. Technically, Hernandez remains a free agent, but that’s a word drained of some meaning, as he’s being held in jail without bail.

On and on it goes.

Goodell, in a letter to Rice that was released by the league, tried to clamber onto the closest approximation of high ground. “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game,” he wrote. “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence.”

Then, big softy that he is, the commissioner went misty-eyed.

“I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter,” he wrote to Rice, “and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career.”

If I were to call Mary Travers Murphy, head of Buffalo’s Family Justice Center, I know what she’d say. She’d say it’s a setback for all victims of domestic abuse. She’d say it gives permission to abusers. She’d say it trivializes a crime that strikes every community, in every demographic, city, suburb, or rural. And she’d say, shame on you NFL.

And then you know what else she’d say — being the practical and determined advocate she is? She’d tell the Ravens to contribute Rice’s two games’ salary to her counterpart in Baltimore. And do it fast.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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