Another day brings another controversy for the NFL. An organization that strives to live by rules, both on and off the field, the NFL is navigating an unforeseen and unknown environment. With the latest Adrian Peterson controversy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, is leading a league that is reeling amidst an unprecedented negative publicity avalanche. Through the actions of three star players, domestic violence has become a national issue. Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson are at the center of the storm. Goodell, just like Caesar, must be muttering, “Et tu Adrian?”
It began innocently enough with Ray Rice and spousal abuse. After receiving a two game suspension from the commissioner for cold cocking his wife, Ray Rice thought the worst was behind him. Neither he nor Goodell had envisioned the public backlash that ensued.
The backlash was so strong that it coerced the commissioner to release a new league policy dealing with domestic violence. His policy stipulated a minimum suspension of six games for a first-time offender and a lifetime suspension thereafter. In doing so, the commissioner stated that he had made a mistake to suspend Rice for only two games.
Then came the TMZ video of the actual elevator punch Rice threw at his wife that showed her collapsing, unconscious, to the floor. A public outcry began anew and the Baltimore Ravens quickly terminated Rice’s contract. Not to be outdone, Goodell suspended the player indefinitely, totally ignoring the parameters of his newly implemented policy.
Shortly thereafter the Greg Hardy conviction of domestic violence hit the tabloids. Hardy is an all-pro defender for the Carolina Panthers. Although found guilty by a Mecklenburg County judge of choking, throwing, dragging by the hair and threatening to kill his girlfriend, the 275 pound lineman is appealing his verdict for a jury trial later this year. He was scheduled to play until the team benched him amidst another public outcry. The commissioner, somewhat surprisingly, has not issued any punishment for this domestic violence case.
All this has taken a back seat to the newly surfaced issue of child abuse by star running back, Adrian Peterson. “Et tu, Brutus?” Julius Caesar’s last words might be appropriate for the embattled Roger Goodell. Indicted by a Montgomery County, Texas Grand Jury for reckless or negligent injury to a child, Peterson is free on a $15 thousand bond. The Minnesota Vikings deactivated him for one game before reinstating him after an embarrassing loss.
These nationally sensitive violence cases have the NFL reeling. “Due process” has become the new escape clause for dealing with these incidents. What is somewhat confusing is the reason for all of this uncertainty. Historically, the NFL has dealt swiftly and with finality when it came to dealing with players who violated the “conduct detrimental” edict. Yet here we have three cases that fall under Goodell’s newly issued edict regarding family violence and not one of them has been dealt with accordingly.
Rice’s “due process” had run its course when he was initially suspended for two games. A new NFL edict was ignored when he was suspended again, indefinitely, for the same offense. After a one game deactivation, Hardy’s and Peterson’s teams are waiting for the completion of “due process” before deciding on a final punishment. In both of these cases Goodell and his new league violence policy have been markedly absent.
In light of public opinion, the NFL might be best served to deactivate players with pay while their “due process” runs its course. Allowing players under investigation for criminal offenses to play sends a message of tolerance. The ultimate media blitz that generally follows players under investigation has to be disconcerting and distracting to the rest of the team.
In light of these cases, Roger Goodell has lost a lot of respect from the media, the public and the players. Replacing tough rhetoric with tentative actions send all the wrong messages. Goodell, the tough disciplinarian, now appears indecisive by supporting a newly imposed directive that was not applied to Adrian Peterson for the very behavior it was designed to prevent. Caesar ultimately lost his battle for power. As for Goodell? “Et tu, Roger.”
Commentary by Hans Benes