In his press conference Friday explaining the NFL’s response to a rash of domestic violence arrests among its players, Commissioner Roger Goodell dodged, ducked and juked his way past questions with the same skill many of his league’s soon-to-be-indicted players demonstrate on the field.
Goodell’s appearance was an attempt to quell growing outrage at the league’s handling of a particular domestic violence incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and a spate of other cases of domestic violence in general, including a felony child abuse charged leveled at Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
While the National Organization for Women and other groups, along with numerous sportswriters and fans, have called for Goodell to resign, the commissioner said he had not considered stepping down and that he still has the support of the NFL’s owners.
In an opening statement, Goodell tried to make the right noises about accountability and determination to make things right, admitting his own mistakes and discussing the hiring of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to conduct a full investigation of the issue. He spoke of a new commitment to doing the right thing when players commit crimes, and of setting up a process to draft new and more stringent rules on off-the-field conduct.
What Goodell did not do was answer some of the key questions that have been raised about how the NFL in general, and he in particular, have approached the problem.
What difference does a videotape make?
Rice was indicted for felony assault in March of this year for punching his fiancée in the face in the elevator of a hotel, knocking her unconscious. This summer, to a great degree of public outrage, Goodell fined Rice and suspended him for two games — a punishment many saw as laughably lenient.
On September 8, the website TMZ.com released a video showing Rice deliver the knockout blow. Amid intense public outrage, Goodell eventually announced that he was suspending Rice indefinitely.
Given that he and the league knew from the legal filings that Rice had punched his then-girlfriend, now his wife, knocking her out, many saw the move as puzzlingly inconsistent. Why did seeing the video of the punch change the severity of the punishment if there was already agreement on what Rice had done?
Goodell was asked why the video made a difference, but could only say that it had made it clear that it contradicted Rice’s version of events as the player had explained them to the league. The commissioner left it unclear what spin Rice could possibly put on “I punched her in the head and knocked her out” that would have made the NFL imagine something other than what the videotape ultimately showed.
What’s so different about 2007 and 2014?
Goodell spent a lot of time trying to blame process and procedure for the problem. The response to the Rice case was lacking, he said, because the league’s policies toward domestic violence were inadequate — something he said the NFL is already taking steps to remedy.
Society has changed, Goodell said, and the NFL had fallen behind the times in dealing with issues like this. Okay, as answers go it was lame, but plausible.
Wait, though. When were those inadequate policies toward domestic violence drafted? Maybe when the league was founded in 1920? Sure, things would have been different back then, right?
No, the league’s procedures were last updated in 2007. Goodell failed to explain what shift has occurred since then that might change the way society has come to view a professional athlete punching out a woman.
Were you guys really even trying?
If you grant the premise that the videotape really did make a difference in his approach to the Rice case, as Goodell said, that leads to the question, Why didn’t he see it sooner?
At one point in the press conference, a reporter from TMZ confronted Goodell with exactly that question. The NFL has a huge legal department, he pointed out, and somehow failed to obtain the tape. The TMZ reporter said his outlet “got it with one phone call.”
Goodell repeated his assertions that the league had asked for the tape but had not received it. When asked about an Associated Press report that a copy of the tape had actually been delivered to a league official in April, Goodell declined to answer, saying that the Mueller investigation would look into the question.
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