Whether or not NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saw the video of star running back Ray Rice cold-cocking his wife, as strongly indicated by a press report, what is beyond a reasonable doubt is that pro football under his stewardship has a major domestic abuse problem. And executives and owners as well as players are a part of it. So I have decided to boycott the league and all of its products, and hope that millions of other fans will join me and others in this campaign until big strides are made toward setting matters straight on all these levels.
Click here for an illuminating the discussion about the admittedly imperfect statistics pointing to a domestic violence arrest rate for NFL players that is off the charts compared to that of other very high income households – which seems to me the most apt comparison. Nor is there any need to demonize the players or any other abusers (of either gender). If they’re mentally ill rather than simply “evil” in the old-fashioned sense, then they obviously don’t belong out free in society or in the workplace until they’ve received years of treatment at the very least.
But the record of pro football under Goodell shows that battering women consistently is taken much less seriously than offenses like marijuana use or profiting from memorabilia (in at least one case, during the player’s college years!). Indeed, over the summer, Carolina Panthers linebacker Greg Hardy was convicted by a judge of threatening and assaulting a woman. Not only has he not been suspended for a moment – he’s starting tomorrow.
The NFL has explained that it’s waiting to act until Hardy appeals the case. And the player of course has that right. But at this point, the innocent-till-proven guilty principle has unmistakably been weakened, and the NFL’s position can only be seen as coddling – at best. As soon as Hardy announced his intention to contest the ruling, the league should have announced that a severe punishment would be meted out if the appeal failed.
It’s now being suggested that, contrary to his claims, Goodell saw or should have seen (assuming his staff really did receive it) the video of Rice knocking out his then fiancée-now-wife in a casino elevator before he announced a rightly criticized two-game suspension. If so, Goodell’s light-handed response to this brutality is grounds for immediate firing. The league, moreover, would be even more deserving of a boycott. Again, even if the tape doesn’t prove Rice’s villainy, it certainly reveals a deeply sick individual needing 24/7 treatment over a very long period.
But even if Goodell never saw that video, the case for keeping him in the job is weak. Goodell clearly had seen a video of Rice dragging the unconscious woman out of the elevator. Just how did the commissioner think she got into that state? The scenario most charitable to Rice is that Janay Rice provoked an altercation and he acted in self-defense. But it’s hard to believe that a mentally healthy world-class athlete couldn’t have restrained her without a KO. Further, if Goodell’s office did receive the video but the commissioner never saw it, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that an effort to create plausibility deniability was being made. If not, then given the gravity of the issue, he’s open to charges of simple incompetence as an administrator.
Goodell’s defenders point out that Rice was never even brought to trial by Atlantic County, New Jersey prosecutors. So why should the NFL be so much stricter? Let’s leave aside what a pathetic commentary was inadvertently made by chief county prosecutor Jim McClain on his approach to this violent crime. Goodell and pro football should have been stricter because it was clearly within their power to be stricter. Moreover, the league would have made an important, needed statement about this behavior without dragging Rice’s wife through a public trial – ostensibly McClain’ prime concern. But Goodell chose a wrist-slap. In the process, he figuratively dealt another blow to all past, present, and domestic violence victims.
By the way, I’m aware that many innocent NFL employees, like vendors, would be hurt economically by a large-scale boycott. But if the campaign reaches critical mass, the league and its teams are certainly wealthy enough to pay them for as long as it takes, and would be morally obligated to do so.