For over a year and a half now, the NFL’s opening salvo has negatively transformed from “America’s Game” to “America’s Mockery.” In that span of time, two critical off-field incidents occurred involving player misconduct that has drastically shaped the landscape of the organization. On February 15, 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice and his fiancée, Janay Palmer were arrested and charged with assault after a physical altercation occurred at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Celebrity news database, TMZ, eventually uncovered the surveillance footage of the violent dispute and posted the grueling film of Rice dragging Palmer’s body out of an elevator after apparently knocking her out on their news feed. After word of the altercation reached the Baltimore Ravens front office, general manager, Ozzie Newsome issued a major press release statement following TMZ’s leak of the video, calling Rice’s domestic violence arrest a “serious matter”.
On March 27, 2014, a grand jury finally examined the incident thoroughly and therefore indicted Rice on third-degree aggravated assault, with a possible jail sentence of three to five years and lastly a fine ranging approximately up to $15,000. As punishment for his wrong-doings, Rice was later suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season on July 25, 2014 for domestic abuse. Since the announcement of Rice’s suspension, the both Baltimore Ravens and the league itself have been heavily-scrutinized by sports scholars and fans alike for the running back’s light disciplinary sentencing. Numerous sports analysts harshly criticized the NFL Players Association for the soft approach and shortened suspension implemented for Rice, especially NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell whose mild stance on the blowup sparked national displeasure from the league’s loyal fanbase. In a NFL news conference pertaining to longer suspension lengths for future domestic violence incidents, Goodell regretted that he “didn’t get it right” when it came down to contemplating Rice’s punishment.
In the preceding months after the final ruling of Rice’s suspension, critics later attacked Goodell’s exercise of power and his inconsistency as the league disciplinarian when Cleveland Browns wide receiver, Josh Gordon was banned from the NFL after violating the league’s strict substance abuse policies. Gordon, who was previously detained on multiple occasions for possession of marijuana, was charged with DWI and ownership of illegal narcotics on July 5, 2014 when Raleigh police discovered a joint laced with codeine- a prescription drug that is primarily used to treat intense bodily pain or severe coughing. The banning of Gordon shortly became the subject of internet culture in which a recent meme declares, “Just to make this clear, it’s ok to hit Mary but you better not hit Mary Jane,” mocking the commissioner and his defensive stand for Ray Rice. It only became a matter of time before the press unfavorably addressed Gordon’s suspension for a petty drug crime in contrast to Rice’s two-game ban for domestic violence. This ultimately fueled national backlash on various social mediums which caught the attention of masses outside of the sports world leading to verbal protests at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.
On September 8, 2014, TMZ released additional footage from an elevator camera depicting Rice punching Palmer further intensifying public outburst. The Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract as a result adding even more exposure. Shortly afterward, Goodell announced that Rice had been suspended from the NFL indefinitely. The NFL has not witnessed such crass outcry from an image management standpoint since former New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez was censured for first-degree murder in 2013 and has yet to experience a quiet year in quite some time. Now with the Ray Rice scandal unfolding, the league’s mishandling the incident has transfigured into a public relations nightmare. But forget about Ray Rice’s domestic abuse allegations for just a second, what does this say about NFL and their efforts to investigate and finger the affair correctly?
Since 2006, the NFL has documented numerous high-profiled cases in their front office with the latter being worse than the former. Year after year, it has become highly apparent that there is a lack of stability at the disciplinary seat in which Goodell assumes. From the infamous 2012 New Orleans Saints bounty scandal to last year’s malicious disrepute with the Miami Dolphins’ locker room harassment of offensive tackle, Jonathan Martin, sports analysts and fans have dismissed Goodell’s widely-regarded tenure as one of the most inferior in the history of the sport, citing the commissioner’s astounding incompetence and disparity for players affairs and game regulations. After Paul Tagliablue announced his retirement in 2006, Goodell was chosen to succeed over the former commissioner on a close ballot in which he was selected from five candidates. From the time of his inauguration as league commissioner, Goodell did not hesitate to make serious revisions to the classical sport that we know and love. According to Adam Scheffler of ESPN, Goodell’s pragmatic philosophy on the sport stems respectively from the league’s historical chief executives such as Pete Rozelle and the aforementioned Paul Tagliablue as protecting the integrity of the game and ultimately making it safer and intact—”protecting the shield”, as Goodell puts it in reference to the NFL’s renowned shield logo. However, Goodell’s handling of league personnel and league rules have ranked from harsh, cool, and even at times questionable.
Goodell has forever lost his moral compass to lead and the always-growing NFL fanbase has made that relatively known for the past month and a half. It’s safe to say that Goodell is not going to send his resignation anytime soon, and nor will the owners reject him either. Goodell has helped the likes of Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder generate millions while banking a highly-obscene wage himself, so no matter how you slice it Goodell is likely to remain in power even beyond his 2019 extension. What Goodell needs to fully understand in his brief tenure is that he has committed a personal foul against his already tarnished legacy that may indeed permanently afflict professional football’s robust sought-after standing as America’s most popular sport as we know it. Goodell can’t pick up this yellow flag, stuff it back in his pocket and walk away from the pile like the referees that are employed by the league office. No matter how long Goodell reigns supreme over the NFL, no matter how often he tries within his will to hide behind the stricter domestic violence policies he has firmly imposed and no matter his admission of gross misjudgment in the Rice case, these TMZ videos that leaked without proper channeling and clearance will continue haunt him for the remainder of his days.
Never mind the league’ dubious claims that nobody behind the embraced shield viewed this second video before Monday. Never mind that NFL’s security task force has extensive law enforcement connections enough for a reasonable observer to believe some official had to have been debriefed on the very content of the second video that was in police hands, if not granted a private viewing. Never mind that the successful New Jersey prosecutor in the criminal case against Ray Rice should be ashamed of himself for knowing of the existence of a second video yet allowing Rice a straight pathway into a pretrial intervention programs for first offenders.
What, exactly, did Goodell expect to believe happened in that elevator? Didn’t he even realize the brutal confrontation had to be at least as nasty and one-sided as it turned out to be? Wasn’t the gruesome imagery found on the first video of Rice rendering his fiancée, Janay unconscious visual enough to convince him and audiences alike that the player had committed an extremely violent act against a defenseless woman and needed to be severely punished?
Goodell’s first instinct wasn’t merely to hit Rice with the laughable two-game ban, but also to send out one of his puppet-like representatives, Adolpho Birch, on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” sports analysis talk show to defend the commissioner’s sanction against the almost unanimous reliance was far too lenient. Goodell ultimately copped to his biggest mistake and decided to further strengthen domestic violence terms to a six game radius for the first offense and a possible lifetime ban for the second offense, simply because the boisterous uproar and public pressure forced him to do so.
While Goodell’s intentions on paper appear to be virtuous and best for the league and its body, the transactions and ramifications that the current commissioner has implemented have caused far more agony that recreation. If anything is for certain Goodell steps outside of his boundaries rather than evaluates issues piece by piece. For Taligablue and Rozelle, the league was easier for one man to commandeer and maintain properly. There was less emphasis on public safety, the league lacked the global magnitude it does today, the sport was measured with little technological instruments that bettered the game in terms length and marketing and lastly there wasn’t enormity in player misconduct as there is today. As the game changes so does the players and unfortunately the outside world won’t change anytime soon for the NFL, but a new vanguard can shift perspective. As I said earlier, the problem with Goodell lies in his faculty to exert power. There should not be one individual running the show in the NFL. Goodell’s stint as commissioner has its foreground but sadly it is greatly overshadowed by the ill-treatment of league-wide issues such as Bountygate in 2012 and Spygate in 2007. Instead of one sole force calling the shots, the league needs a board of directors – a judicial bench made up of at least five or seven members that fairly determine player discipline. The league needs to see a major overhaul at the position of commissioner and the only way to do so is to eject or demote Goodell and relinquish power to a common demoninator. Ray Rice committed a domestic crime. People who implement crimes are typically reluctant to tell on themselves. Rice’s gutlessness and dishonesty is not surprising. The NFL’s apparent willful ignorance about what happened inside the elevator that evening, however, is astonishingly surprising. It speaks volumes that TMZ were better investigators in attaining tabloid news than a multibillion-dollar industry such as NFL. This is incompetence at an earth-shaking level as I speak. For the longest time now, I have argued from the outset of the NFL’s personal-conduct policy in 2007 that Goodell was fed to folly after appointing himself the czar of discipline. Thus by doing so, playing to the gathering that clamored for public NFL discipline of private matters, he put himself at odds with the personnel, cranked the spotlight on off-the-field issues and last but not least placed himself in a situation that leads to where we are today. Like every chieftain, they come and go. The NBA has angled themselves in a new direction under the tutelage of Adam Silver and thus far his impact has been felt – It’s time for the NFL to prioritize on the long term. Unluckily for Goodell, his time may be just about up as chieftain as the 2014 NFL has yet to show it true colors. The army just needs to find their Patton.
Drew Mattiola is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.