A few weeks into what has been an entertaining NFL season, the focus hasn’t been on the games. Instead a maelstrom of controversy has made its way around the league all the way up to the commissioner’s office. In particular, the domestic violence incidents associated with star running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson have caused a league, that has had its fair share of murderers, rapists, and wife beaters, to face more media scrutiny than ever. Rice was arrested in February after knocking his at-the-time fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City elevator. Peterson was indicted Sept. 12 for reckless or negligent injury to a child. He is accused of beating his son with a switch (a shaved tree branch) until he was bloody.
However, as horrific as the crimes sound, it isn’t Rice or Peterson who’s dealing with the most public derision: it’s the NFL and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell, who made a name for himself as a strict disciplinarian early on in his tenure as commissioner, has been accused of inaction and mishandling these two incidents in particular. Rice has been the biggest source of controversy. He initially was handed a two game suspension for his actions compared to the similarly timed full season suspension of Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Josh Gordon for driving under the influence of marijuana. This seemed wrong to NFL fans. The outrage picked up in early September when TMZ.com released footage of Rice graphically beating his fiancée in the elevator and then dragging the unconscious women out of the elevator. Around this time an unnamed law enforcement office claimed that he had sent the tape to NFL. Once TMZ released the tape, the NFL moved to quickly suspend Rice indefinitely, with Goodell claiming not to have seen the tape before. With the Peterson incident, Peterson was initially declared inactive by his team, the Minnesota Vikings, but then brought back the next week only to be declared inactive after team hotel sponsor, Radisson, decided to suspend their deal with the team in response to the team reinstating Peterson. Goodell, for his part, has stated that the league will not act on the Peterson case until a verdict has been found citing Peterson’s right to due process. This is the same man that four years earlier suspended Ben Roethlisberger for six games (eventually reduced to four) during the 2010 season after allegations of multiple sexual assaults. While the claims were not criminally prosecuted, this is what the expectation was for the NFL under Roger Goodell.
Goodell was recently parodied on the Sept. 24 episode of South Park, which not only depicted Goodell as a malfunctioning robot incapable of solving problems, but also went on to accuse the NFL of claiming to hold itself to a high moral standard while not following through with its own claims. He was also compared to the child molestation issues within the Catholic church, with character Eric Cartman crassly proclaiming, “If we claim to be a company with high morality somebody is going to get raped or beaten in an elevator” in reference to the Ray Rice incident.
The oft inflammatory show hasn’t been the only one to take aim at the NFL’s handling of the two situations. There has been plenty of backlash in social media, most notably the photoshopping of NFL sponsor and makeup company, CoverGirl’s ‘Get Your Game Face On’ ad series. The series which depicts women with makeup coordinated with each of the 32 teams’ colors was altered to include bruises and black eyes on the models’ faces, in an attempt to have the company end its relationship with the NFL. ESPN columnist and Grantland.com editor-in-chief, Bill Simmons, went on to call Goodell a liar after attending a press conference where Goodell had claimed not to have previously seen the Ray Rice tape, “I just think not enough is being made out of the fact that they knew about the tape and they knew what was on it…he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail.” Simmons was later suspended by ESPN for three weeks for his rant.
The NFL needs to find a solution, first and foremost to the issues with domestic violence, but it also needs to fix its own image and take charge. If the NFL wants to hold itself up as a league with integrity and respect, it needs to change from the Commissioner’s office.