It isn’t often that you see a public figure, much less the commissioner of the National Football League, shrink before your very eyes.
Yet, that’s precisely what Roger Goodell did last week in meting out punishment to Ravens running back Ray Rice in connection with an allegation of domestic abuse against his fiancée. Presented with a video of Rice dumping an unconscious Janay Palmer on the floor outside an elevator in an Atlantic City casino, Goodell suspended Rice for the whopping total of two games.
Not eight, or six, or even four games; all of which would have been far more appropriate. But just the first two contests of the season: a Sunday afternoon game against Cincinnati and a meeting with Pittsburgh five days later. After that, Rice will be free to catch passes, run to daylight and soak up the adulation that comes with being a high profile All-Pro running back.
And he can thank Roger Goodell. Goodell essentially said to the millions of women who are fans of the league and buy millions of dollars of merchandise that their safety is inconsequential.
There are admittedly a ton of nuances and mitigating factors in this case. Before this, Rice had never been in trouble legally or with the NFL. He has been a spokesperson in a campaign against bullying and a corporate pitchman, a clean-cut guy with a wide smile.
Palmer married Rice in the midst of the controversy. She has steadfastly stood by him. She reportedly went with him to Goodell’s office to lobby for leniency.
And Rice will pay a heavy monetary price for this. When you add in a $58,000 fine to the three game checks that he is being docked, Ray Rice will lose over $700,000 in connection with this incident.
A few folks have contrasted this punishment with heavier sanctions for violations of the league’s drug policy. But frankly, what the NFL does about performance enhancers, marijuana and alcohol should have nothing to do with how it deals with violence against women.
In a letter to Rice announcing the punishment, Goodell said the league can’t accept behavior that hurts others or reflects poorly on the NFL. Goodell said, quote, “This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.”
That’s a nice statement, belied by a survey conducted by the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper. The survey found that 21 of the NFL’s 32 teams had a player that had a domestic violence or sexual violence charge on their record last year. If you’re counting, that’s over 65 percent of the teams. That doesn’t sound much like a league or a commissioner interested in taking a stand.
In less than six months on the job, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has already stared down bigotry and racism by an owner, namely Donald Sterling of the L.A. Clippers. Silver was swift and decisive in kicking Sterling to the curb permanently and earned the reputation of a giant.
With 7 ½ more years in his job, Roger Goodell, by contrast, looks weak, ineffectual and dare I say, puny.
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