Recently, a slew of domestic violence charges against several high profile NFL players has brought NFL ethical policies into focus.
The surveillance video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiance (now wife) Janay Palmer out of a casino elevator in Atlantic City caused public outrage.
Fury was heightened when the NFL responded to the video and Rice’s arrest for domestic violence by suspending Rice for two games. The public spoke out through social media, saying a two-game suspension was not a harsh enough punishment for violent assault.
In a September press conference after Rice’s punishement had been announced, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell backed the decision, saying, “We can’t just make up the discipline. It has to be consistent with other cases and it was consistent with other cases.”
However, when looking at the NFL’s history of suspensions, it appears that harsher punishments have been handed out for infractions such as marijuana or Adderall use. Past records show that the NFL has given the harshest punishments for illegal PED use.
One extreme case is that of the Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, who was suspended without pay for four games after failing a PED test; he said he was taking fertility drugs in an attempt to have a baby with his wife.
On August 28, Roger Goodell sent a letter to the NFL’s 32 team owners, admitting the NFL failed to handle Rice’s case properly. In this letter, he revealed new domestic violence policies for the NFL.
Goodell said, “Our goals are to prevent violence, impose appropriate discipline, provide professional support resources when appropriate, and publicly embrace a leadership role on this issue.”
The policy changes include requiring players to participate in domestic violence and sexual assault education, adding more support for families of NFL players and ordering harsher punishments for offenders. The new policy stated that first-time offenders would receive a six game ban and second-time offenders will receive a lifetime ban.
A few days after Goodell announced the new policy, TMZ leaked a video that showed what happened prior to Rice dragging his unconscious fiance out of the elevator. The disturbing footage shows Rice slugging Palmer, who then crumples to the floor, unconscious. The Ravens immediately cut Rice, and the NFL followed by banning him from the NFL for life.
Then, a security guard who worked at the Atlantic City casino dropped a bombshell, telling the Associated Press that he had sent the entire video to the NFL months ago.
The AP got hold of a 12 second voicemail from April 9 confirming that the video arrived at NFL headquarters. In the voicemail, a woman’s voice says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.” Goodell and other NFL executives claim to have no knowledge of seeing this video.
Goodell came under fire again when four sources revealed to ESPN that Rice had confessed the whole story to Goodell prior to the second video leak.
One source shared, “He told the full truth to Goodell – he made it clear he had hit her, and he told Goodell he was sorry and that it wouldn’t happen again.”
Adding to the firestorm is the fact that Goodell requested the full video from law enforcement, yet he made no attempt to reach out to the casino.
On CBS This Morning, Goodell stated, “I don’t know how TMZ or any other website gets their information. We are particularly reliant on law enforcement,” he continued. “That’s the most reliable. That’s the most credible.”
To respond to accusations of Goodell’s mishandlings, the NFL has begun an independent investigation to look into the matter, led by former FBI head Robert Müller III.
After the release of the NFL’s new domestic violence policy, several instances quickly arose that tested both the NFL and the policy.
Following the Rice incident, Adrian Peterson, star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was indicted by a grand jury in Texas for child abuse when allegations arose that Peterson physically assaulted his child as punishment, leaving deep wounds along the child’s back and lower body.
Peterson responded, “I am not a perfect parent, but I am, without a doubt, not a child abuser.”
Peterson was suspended from playing, but was later reinstated.
Minnesota governor Mark Dayton responded to the Vikings reinstatement of Adrian Peterson, “It is an awful situation. Yes, Mr. Peterson is entitled to due process and should be ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ However, he is a public figure; and his actions, as described, are a public embarrassment to the Vikings organization and the State of Minnesota….”
“Therefore, I believe the team should suspend Mr. Peterson until the accusations of child abuse have been resolved by the criminal justice system.”
Later that night, Peterson was suspended indefinitely by the Vikings.
Greg Hardy, a defensive end who plays for the Carolina Panthers, was convicted for assaulting a woman in July. Hardy started Week 1 of the season and was scheduled to start in Week 2, but was benched at the last minute.
On September 14, the Panthers made the decision to deactivate Hardy, despite prior comments claiming they believed in due process that would allow Hardy to play that Sunday.
A third incident involves local San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald. He was arrested on August 31 for domestic violence, yet he has played in the Niners’ first seven games.
Coach Jim Harbaugh said, “If someone physically abuses a woman and/or physically or mentally abuses or hurts a child, then there’s no understanding.”
However, he stands with the Niners organization in waiting for due process to take place.
Harbaugh told the media, “I’m not inserting myself into the process, one way or the other. I think that’s the right thing to do, respect the legal process, respect the due process. The authorities are at work.”
In response to these situations, Goodell released another letter on September 15, notifying NFL teams that four women would be added to the group which would be working to shape the new policies. Anna Isaacson, the NFL Vice President of community affairs and philanthropy, was named the Vice President of Social Responsibility.
In this position, according to the letter, “[Isaacson] will oversee the development of the full range of education, training and support programs relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, and matters of respect with the goal of accelerating our implementation of the commitments made in my letter of August 28.”
Other experts appointed include Lisa Fiel, former Head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution unit in the New York County District Attorney’s office, Jane Randel, co-founder of NO MORE, and Rita Smith, former Executive Director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Only two days after this announcement, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was deactivated after his arrest on charges of aggravated assault involving a minor that caused a fracture in mid-July.
“Given the serious nature of the allegations, we have taken the immediate step to deactivate Jonathan from all team activities,” the Cardinals said. “We will continue to closely monitor this as it develops and evaluate additional information as it becomes available.”
All NFL owners recently watched a new video on domestic violence, included in a 40 minute presentation, which, according to ESPN, will “educate everyone in the NFL about the dangers of spousal abuse, child abuse, sexual assault and other domestic violence topics.”
Goodell explained to NBC News that there was also a discussion with “a tremendous focus on our approach to social responsibility” with “a great deal of focus on what support services we can provide to the family, particularly in the case of domestic violence, to the victim, to the children, if necessary, and to the perpetrator himself — or herself.”
Former Chicago Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo also told USA Today that he took part in covering up “hundreds and hundreds” of domestic violence cases.
However, a few days later, he backed out of this statement, explaining, “I was embellishing a point of how many things I’ve seen over the years.”
He continued, “How can I say hundreds and hundreds of domestic violence cases? I have no clue. I can never authenticate that. I was embellishing a point about change over my 20 years in the league and not just domestic violence.”
The NFL is continuing to work towards shaping a better domestic violence policy so that the amount of domestic violence cases in the future can be vastly reduced and those perpetrators will receive just punishment. The public that spoke out so vociferously against Rice’s initial punishment acted as the essential force in keeping the NFL in check and requiring them to change their policies.