By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is, apparently, not much in favor of a league that thoroughly investigates claims of domestic violence against its players.
In a story that has gone widely underreported but was resurfaced by ESPN this week, Jones approached Lisa Friel, the NFL’s investigator on cases of domestic violence, and raised his voice. Friel is in the process of investigating Cowboys rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott regarding several claims of domestic assault.
According to ESPN, Jones insinuated to Friel that both of them will end up unemployed if such an investigation continues.
Here’s the report, from ESPN:
Jones said he recognized that investigations were her bread and butter and ended the conversation with: “Your bread and butter is going to get both of us thrown out on the street,” according to ESPN The Magazine reporter Seth Wickersham, who witnessed the encounter, which was reported by Outside the Lines. Other witnesses downplayed Jones’ intensity.
A public relations person immediately led Jones out of the hotel bar.
Putting the wholly inappropriate behavior of a billionaire owner not-so-subtly threatening the job status of an employee who was simply executing a job for which she was hired, and even ignoring the visual of an NFL owner needing to be escorted out of a bar, the attitude of Jones is not surprising. Through Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Ray McDonald and most recently Josh Brown, the message from the very top of the league has been one that minimizes the significance of domestic violence claims.
Friel herself has contributed to that. She was hand-picked by Roger Goodell “to set a new and consistent policy to address domestic violence” when she was hired in 2014. She said she took the job when she became convinced that Goodell “was 100 percent committed to finding a solution.” She added: “I am just as committed to getting it right.”
She then headed an investigation which resulted in Brown getting a one-game suspension instead of the league-mandated six-game suspension. The suspension was reduced by more than 83 percent because of mitigating circumstances which the league and Friel have never revealed. Rather than being forced to explain the process, the NFL merely scapegoated Brown, much like they did to Rice. Both players remain unemployed.
It’s worth noting, too, that Friel is a lifelong fan of the New York Giants, the team that previously employed Brown.
“[Friel] loves and reveres the New York Giants,” The Daily Beast reported in 2014. “She’s the sort of fan who turned the den of her Brooklyn home into a shrine (painting it Giants blue and red and decorating it with team paraphernalia and a life-size wall-hanging of Eli Manning), boasts season tickets that have been in her family for more than 60 years, and cheers her lungs out at every game at MetLife Stadium in the New Jersey Meadowlands.”
The New York Times detailed that her office includes posters of Phil Simms and Eli Manning. The Boston Globe noted that when she was hired in 2014, taking her children to games and cheering on the Giants was a weekly ritual.
From the perspective of Jones — who runs a team that directly competes with those Giants as a divisional rival — one might not believe it be coincidental that Friel went noticeably light on Brown, who was a member of her favorite football team.
Whether or not that’s actually the case is less relevant than the issue of Friel and Goodell failing to uphold the rules that they themselves created as a response to public outrage regarding domestic violence failures in the league. Had Friel and Goodell merely applied the rules, there would at least be a feeling of respect toward the process. But reducing Brown’s suspension by five games and then getting exposed for it has only set the entire process back to the pre-Rice era.
As background, Elliott was never arrested, though police were called to investigate an altercation between him and a female in February. Multiple claims have been made, though no charges have been filed. Hence, the difficulty to run a thorough and proper investigation remains high.
Of course, complicating matters is the presence of somebody like Jerry Jones. The Cowboys owner very quickly jumped at the chance to hire Greg Hardy last year, going so far as to suggest that Hardy was somehow the victim of his own domestic violence.
“I have a complete sensitivity toward domestic violence,” Jones said. “It’s been a real, a real lifetime challenge for him. I know that he needs us. He’s our teammate.”
Even from a wealthy man in his 70s who has no understanding of societal issues, the comment was repulsive. Yet, at that same time, Jones expressed a great respect for Goodell, specifically regarding the investigation he launched and the punishment he handed out to the Patriots for allegedly taking some air out of some footballs.
“I do support the commissioner,” Jones said of the DeflateGate punishments. “And I support the commissioner for his position relative to the rules and the sanctions.”
It’s that hypocrisy which ultimately removes any potential validity to the concerns of a biased investigation. When other teams are being investigated and punished, Jones ardently supports the process. When his own player might be held accountable for actions which he may have committed, he feels compelled to threaten unemployment to the woman tasked with investigating very complicated claims.
This is today’s NFL. Rich, powerful men believe they are entitled to manipulate the system in their favor, no matter the circumstance. “Fairness” remains a word in the dictionary with no actual place in reality. There is no sign of anything changing any time soon.