It’s become almost impossible to take the National Football League’s method of serving out punishment to both its players and its organizations seriously. The first glaring incident this off-season was the case of Jim Irsay, the owner of the Indianapolis Colts, who was arrested on drug charges with a briefcase containing prescription pills and $29,000 in cash. Did the NFL act immediately and harshly, as one might expect? No, it did not. It waited for almost four months to hand down the punishment: a six game suspension, a fine of $500,000 (.000003% of Irsay’s net worth), and a ban from social media. That’s right, they told him he didn’t have to go to work for six weeks, took away an incredibly insignificant amount of his income, and banned him from tweeting.
As if this incident weren’t embarrassing enough, an even more egregious saga began in February when Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested for striking his then-fiancé (now wife) in an elevator and knocking her unconscious. A couple of days later, TMZ published surveillance video of Rice unceremoniously dragging her unconscious body out of the elevator. After the indictment, Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL. Two. Games. The average substance abuse or PED related suspension for a first time offender is four or five games. That’s right. The NFL somehow believes that knocking one’s significant other unconscious is approximately half as bad as drug or steroid use.
But it gets worse. Last week, TMZ published the rest of the surveillance video, in which one can clearly see Rice punching his fiance in the face. She crumples to the ground, unconscious, and Rice stands around, waiting for the elevator doors to open, before dragging her out.
The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, claims that no one in the league offices saw this video when deciding Rice’s original punishment (Rice has since been indefinitely suspended by the league). The Associated Press reports that a law enforcement official sent the surveillance tape to the league in April, and has a tape of a reporter confirming that the NFL did, indeed, have the video. Should it really matter, though? Was the original publicized footage of Rice dragging an unconscious body out of the elevator not enough? Should the fact that Rice was arrested on aggravated assault charges not have been enough? It appears that the league has drawn a line against domestic violence only when they have come under public scrutiny for not doing so in the first place, and that is simply not acceptable.
It is unacceptable to treat violence against another person as less of an issue than personal substance abuse. It is unacceptable to admit to your mistake only when you come under public scrutiny. It is unacceptable to allow these players, who make millions of dollars every year, who are presented by the NFL as role models for children (see the NFL’s Play 60 commercials, which run during every broadcast game), to treat the life of another human with such casual indifference.
To be commissioner of the National Football League means taking responsibility for both its successes and its failures, and the NFL failed in more than one respect this off-season. Mr. Goodell, you owe us at the very least an explanation, and some honesty. You owe it to the fans who make your job and your salary possible to make your decisions based on what is right, not on what will have the smallest impact on the NFL’s profit margin. If you cannot satisfactorily provide us with these things — and so far, you haven’t proven that you can — then, Mr. Goodell, you owe us your job.