By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The date was Aug. 29, in the year 2014. Every person in America was fully aware that domestic violence was a very bad thing. Every person, that is, except for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
The commissioner was learning, though, after he saw the overwhelming response to his absurdly light punishment for Ray Rice. Goodell wrote a letter to the 32 NFL teams, “We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place. … I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
And we will.
Fast-forward to August 2016. Giants kicker Josh Brown is issued a one-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The public learns that it stems from a domestic violence arrest in 2015. Not much else is known. Brown says he disagrees with the suspension but has exhausted all options for appeal. A day passes in the news cycle. The world moves on.
But unfortunately for Brown and for Goodell, the New York Daily News didn’t move on. The New York Daily News’ Seth Walder did some digging. And what he found was alarming.
The Daily News discovered that Brown’s ex-wife called 911 on two consecutive days in May 2015. The second call came after Brown grabbed his then-wife’s wrist. Upon the arrival of police, she told the authorities about a pattern of threats and abuse from Brown.
“[She] stated that Joshua had been physically violent to her on more than 20 different instances over the past several years,” the police report, obtained by the Daily News, stated. “She said that Joshua became violent after she became pregnant with their daughter.”
When she was between four and six months pregnant, she said, “I remember [him] grabbing my shoulders and like just pushing me into the door.”
It continued: “[She] also said that during a recent trip to Hawaii in April of this year, Joshua got angry in an argument with her and held up his fist like he was going to punch her and said ‘I want to knock you out so bad.’ [She] further described an incident that occurred in April of 2014, saying that Joshua pushed her into the large mirror in their bedroom and then threw her on the floor and jumped on top of her, holding her face down into the carpet. [She] said this incident caused her pain in her arm and elbow for several months.”
She also told authorities that once, when Brown was in an argument with her son, Brown kicked down the bathroom door, and he “kicked the door so hard that it broke off the hinges of the door and cracked a large portion of the doorjam[b].”
And more: “[She] estimated she had called the police 10 times prior to the incident that prompted Josh Brown’s arrest in 2015. She estimated that Brown has said he was going to kill her four or five times but added she initially didn’t think he meant it but eventually started to take him seriously.
The NFL presumably could have gathered this information if it wanted to. After all, the league claimed it would no longer rely on the criminal justice system. Instead, it would conduct its own research, because domestic abusers have no place in the NFL.
Alas, it was the New York Daily News and not the National Football League that uncovered all of this information. And now it puts the league in quite the quandary.
The New York Giants, for their part, have not cloaked themselves in glory, either. For one, the team re-signed him for $4 million this past offseason, presumably after knowing much of this information.
But then there’s this: When head coach Ben McAdoo was hired in January, he was asked what he won’t tolerate on his football team.
“Domestic violence is something that we’re all cracking down on in this league,” he stated. “That’s something that’s important to us as an organization, important to me as a man, and important to me as a coach.”
On Wednesday, when news of the suspension broke, McAdoo said in a published statement, “I do support Josh as a man, a father, and a player.”
Worst yet, when asked by the Daily News if he investigated the matter himself, McAdoo passed the buck, taking no responsibility for such a matter.
“I stay in my lane,” McAdoo told the Daily News. “I don’t have any information on that.”
The man who said he would not tolerate domestic violence from anyone on his team boldly decided to simply stay out of it.
It’s all a strikingly similar situation to the Ray Rice scenario. Back then, the league issued a slap on the wrist and hoped nobody would notice. The team rallied around Rice, from the coaching staff to the front office to the guy who writes garbage on the team’s official website. It was only after TMZ released video footage from inside the fateful casino elevator that Goodell was forced to act.
To be sure, this country has a problem with regard to properly holding men accountable when they abuse women. Much more often than not, guilty men are passed through the system without having to serve any jail time or suffer any great consequences — at least, not until they’ve been found guilty three or four times. So, it may be a bit idealistic to expect a sports league to hold itself to a higher standard in such matters.
Except, well, the NFL vowed to be better. The NFL claimed it would not rely on law enforcement, that it would conduct its own investigation, and that it would come down harshly on anyone who was found to be in violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. That’s why Adrian Peterson sat out a year. That’s why Greg Hardy missed a year. Some positive steps were made in that regard — if we selectively ignore the league’s mishandling of Ray McDonald, of course.
But now this. And this doesn’t look good.
When TMZ and the New York Daily News are guiding the ethics, it becomes clear that the league is not doing its job.
In August 2014, Goodell vowed, “We will increase the sanctions imposed on NFL personnel who violate our policies.”
In August 2014, Goodell vowed, “Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances. That has been and remains our policy.”
In August 2014, Goodell vowed, “Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense.”
In August 2014, Goodell vowed, “The reality is that domestic violence and sexual assault are often hidden crimes, ones that are under-reported and under-acknowledged. The steps we are taking will reinforce our commitment to address this issue constructively.”
In August 2016, Josh Brown said, “I just want to kick field goals. That’s really what it comes down to.”
Sadly, for all parties involved, that’s simply the truth.
In his letter to all NFL personnel in August 2014, Goodell proved he could parrot the words of professionals and experts who actually do dedicate their lives to addressing a very serious issue in this country. Goodell wanted to play the part of a man who really cared.
“If you believe that you or someone you know may be at risk of domestic violence or other misconduct, we strongly encourage you to seek assistance through your club’s director of player engagement, human resources department, the NFL LifeLine or an independent local domestic violence resource,” he wrote. “Help is available and can prevent potentially tragic incidents.”
Two years later, these words could not look any more empty. And it’s those empty words — not the promised dedication to combat domestic violence — that thus far has been the NFL’s legacy in dealing with the matter.
Yes, lives are at risk, and yes, women may be getting physically hurt and verbally threatened. But hey, the NFL just wants to kick field goals.