By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In August of 2014, Roger Goodell deserved to lose his job. Despite clear and overwhelming evidence of Ray Rice striking his then-fiancee in the head with a closed fist inside of a casino elevator, despite video evidence of Rice dragging the unconscious woman out of the elevator, and despite the existence of common sense and basic human decency, Roger Goodell claimed that it was difficult for him to understand what took place inside the elevator.
Now, that same man is telling you that you don’t understand the intricate nuances of how the NFL handles cases of domestic violence.
When asked why the league has seemingly come down more harshly on players who celebrate touchdowns than it does on players who beat their wives, Goodell condescendingly told this to the BBC:
“I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions.”
Again, Goodell is the same man who said it was unclear what Rice did to that woman in the elevator, despite the mountains of obvious evidence and testimony.
That same man is patting you on the head, appreciative of your curiosity but dismissive of your demands for honesty and transparency.
That same man, once again, deserves to lose his job.
Ray Rice, 2014: Goodell Creates A Problem
Before we focus on the present, let’s first go back to exactly what transpired in 2014. In February of that year, Rice was arrested in Atlantic City after an altercation with his fiancee. At the time of the arrest, police said that “both [Rice] and Palmer struck each other with their hands.” A witness claimed that Rice hit his fiancee “like he punched a guy, knocked down and dragged her out of the elevator by his feet.”
The information was available to anybody with an internet connection.
It was a gruesome crime, one that remains difficult for any human being to watch. Yet Roger Goodell didn’t find it to be a very heinous crime at all, and he didn’t mind letting that player continue to play in his league.
Goodell issued a two-game suspension to Rice.
The public was upset at the soft punishment. But the public, as it tends to do, eventually grew distracted and moved on.
Only when TMZ released footage of the actual assault did the public whip itself back up into a frenzy, and only then did the commissioner issue a more serious punishment. Goodell acted shocked and appalled after witnessing an event which everyone already knew happened and which had been sent to his office on video months earlier.
Instead of admitting his own fault, Goodell told the world that Rice had lied to him. Later, a court would show that Rice never lied to Goodell, that Goodell was the only liar in this case.
Think about that: In a situation where a man had punched his fiancee and rendered her unconscious, the commissioner of the National Football League was unable to emerge looking like the more principled, ethical person.
But Goodell kept his job, largely because the NFL owners knew two things. For one, removing a CEO amid a controversy is bad for business, and doing so could have led to some diminished profits. Instead of making $550 million in a year, an owner might have stood to only make $530 million in a year.
Secondly, the owners banked on the public’s attention span typically being short. No matter the level of outrage, just about everything washes over at some point. And they were right. Football season began, Goodell launched a faux “investigation” of his own office, and lo and behold, a full-fledged scandal over the much-more-important issue of football inflation popped up and took everybody’s minds off Ray Rice.
Profits continued to climb, interest in the league was never higher. Goodell had survived; the owners made sure of it.
Josh Brown, 2016: Goodell Repeats His Own Errors
Fast-forward to now. The public arrest record of Brown cited years of alleged abuse by his ex-wife. The publicly available divorce file included a full admission to physical and emotional abuse by Brown. The NFL’s own security team had been involved in Brown’s abuse, moving his then-wife and kids to another hotel just this past January after a belligerent Brown had been banging on her door and screaming in the hallway.
The NFL knew all of this. All of it. Every single detail. When Goodell and John Mara and anyone else tell you that what came out last week is “new information,” you cannot buy it. You simply cannot.
The NFL knew more than enough about Brown to confirm that he had been a serial abuser of his wife for many years. Yet, Roger Goodell gave Brown and the Giants a detour around the mandatory six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence offenders. He suspended the kicker for one game and figured that would be the end of the story.
That miscalculation on basic morality perfectly displays Goodell’s failure as a leader. He rules based on what he believes he can get away with, rather than what is objectively right. And he relies on the public’s indifference and eventual apathy in order to keep his job.
For the latest proof, look only at the comment he gave to the BBC. “I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions.”
What Roger Goodell has said to the world is this: No, you’re the obtuse, morally depraved individual; I’m the one who’s right. Some day, when you’re older, you’ll understand.
He said this, mind you, while dodging the American media and feigning invisibility amid yet another high-profile mishandling of a domestic violence case.
From a man who’s issued innumerable lies to the public over the past several years, he managed in this one answer to author his most offensive statement yet.
2015: Goodell Dedicates Infinitely More Resources To Football Air Pressure Than To Greg Hardy
Mind you, following the Rice cover-up, Goodell vowed to “be better” when it came to issues of domestic violence. Yet when given the actual chance to “be better,” he instead proved to be nothing more than an empty suit.
Another domestic violence case landed in Goodell’s lap with Greg Hardy, who had been convicted by a North Carolina judge of assault on a female. Hardy appealed the decision, and in the meanwhile of waiting for a jury trial, he faced no punishment from the NFL. Nothing at all. The Carolina Panthers let him play in Week 1. Only when the public caught wind of what Hardy had been convicted of doing did the team decide to take him off the field.
Eventually, Hardy wanted to play in the NFL again. The NFL held a reinstatement hearing for Hardy.
Roger Goodell did not even attend.
Instead, his employees allowed Hardy’s attorney to paint the victim in a grossly negative light. The NFL agreed to let Hardy back in the league.
Goodell issued a 10-game suspension to Hardy. Hardy appealed. Goodell hand-picked an arbitrator, who lowered the suspension to four games.
Goodell did not fight that ruling by the arbitrator. Four games was just fine with him.
By contrast, he fought hard to serve as the arbitrator in Tom Brady’s appeal hearing, spending 11 hours inside a room at NFL headquarters, pretending to have a legal background while overseeing a sham trial about air pressure in footballs. He then used millions of dollars of the NFL’s money in legal fees to try to win that ruling.
Again, he couldn’t even be bothered to show up for Hardy’s reinstatement hearing, and he did not appeal when an arbitrator lessened his punishment by 60 percent. On the contrast, he dedicated his entire life to bringing down Tom Brady.
Nothing shows Goodell’s intentions better than that dichotomy.
The Owners Deserve Equal, If Not More Shame
Goodell has no doubt been a moral calamity in all three of these high-profile domestic violence cases, but the owners have arguably been even worse. With Rice, the Ravens issued a statement in which four important members of the organization said they knew that Rice had hit his wife in the head with his hand and left her unconscious, but they thought it was an open hand rather than a fist. They stated this, with the intention of convincing the public that one is somehow much worse than the other.
“It was our understanding based on Ray’s account that in the course of a physical altercation between the two of them he slapped Janay with an open hand, and that she hit her head against the elevator rail or wall as she fell to the ground.”
–Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti
“I assumed the video would be terrible, because it would show a man striking a woman, but I also thought the video would show a physical altercation where Ray was defending himself with an open hand.”
–Ravens president Dick Caas
“Ray Rice never told me that he punched her. In June, when I spoke to ESPN The Magazine, it was still my understanding that Ray had not punched her and was acting defensively.”
–Ravens head coach John Harbaugh
“Ray told me he slapped her. He denied punching her.”
–Ravens director of security Darren Sanders
Bisciotti also told reporters that he could have obtained the video of Rice punching his then-fiancee … if he had only thought to ask.
“There is no excuse for me to have not demanded that video, except I wasn’t concerned or interested enough to demand it,” Bisciotti stated. “It never crossed my mind.”
What the Ravens were saying as an organization was that knocking out a woman with a hit to the head using an open hand was acceptable, but using a fist crossed an imaginary line, and so Rice had to be removed the roster.
Now in the case of Brown, the morally bankrupt owner of the Giants said that the team was well aware of Brown’s history of abusing his wife before signing him to a two-year, $4 million contract.
“He’s admitted to us he’s abused his wife in the past, but what I think is a little unclear is the extent of that.”
–Giants owner John Mara
By and large, the owners have remained remarkably silent. Robert Kraft pledged $1.5 million to domestic violence prevention in 2015. The Green Bay Packers once accepted donations of old cell phones to assist domestic violence survivors. But it’s difficult to find any other teams even so much as offering lip service to the cause. There were a few brave owners and executives who issued anonymous quotes to ESPN, apparently too afraid to break ranks and go so far as to say that they believe it’s wrong for a man to hit a woman. (Adding to the strangeness, there’s not even a writer who was willing to put his or her name on that ESPN story.)
Add in the league fining William Gay $5,787 last year for wearing purple cleats in support of domestic violence awareness and it is, quite simply, a despicable culture on display in the NFL. Yet, for as appalling as these public stances of support for some domestic violence but not a ton of domestic violence may be, the fact remains that owners cannot be fired. In fact, when Bisciotti issued that team statement, he actually laughed out loud when a reporter questioned whether he might be concerned that the league would force him to sell the team.
Of course not. Are you crazy? Have you seen the man in charge?
That, ultimately, is the answer that any owner exposed to have subhuman morals can give. The head of our league does not demand higher standards, so why should we uphold them on our own?
And that, precisely, is why Goodell must go. Will he be mostly a fall guy for the owners who care not about a player’s off-field behavior, so long as that player can run or tackle or kick a football? Yes, he will. But he also brought all of this on himself.
The Public Is The Only Voice That Matters
If Goodell had been capable of just enforcing the rule which he created — that is, an automatic six-game suspension for a first offense of domestic violence — then he would have avoided all of this added scrutiny. If he could have just maintained even a hint of understanding of humanity, he would have taken an actual stand against domestic violence, which is truly the easiest thing anyone can do.
Instead, Goodell did his friend John Mara a solid, and he let the world know that the NFL does not care about domestic violence.
Now, if the world truly does care about this issue, it’s time for the world to let the NFL know that Goodell’s good-old-boys network where a little bit of domestic violence is just fine cannot be tolerated.
That is, ultimately, what this entire ordeal will come down to. Will the public outcry continue to grow? Will fans make statements by spending their money elsewhere? Will they let their team owners know that change must be made in order to win back allegiances? Actions, as always, effect change much more swiftly than angry tweets.
The answer to those questions can’t be answered in any story, and frankly, it would be surprising if the public at large started a movement strong enough to influence such a major change. And, given the lack of morals and principle among the league’s leaders, it’s a near-certainty that the NFL will never make such a change based solely on ethics and basic decency.
Yet while that change may not ever actually come, there should be no doubt: Roger Goodell acted so improperly in 2014 that he deserved to lose his extraordinarily high-paying job. Two years later, he’s proven capable of making the same mistake twice.
It’s really not at all difficult to understand.