The NFL seems to have two general approaches to domestic violence… and the just-released New York Giants kicker Josh Brown experienced both of them. The first is to ignore the problem: a one-game suspension and everyone moves on with their lives (except possibly the abused spouse). The second is to get rid of this player forever, with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suddenly dropping the hammer and then the team discarding the player altogether.
What’s most depressing is that whether being lenient or harsh, both the NFL Commissioner and the team seem to have said: “What’s the absolute easiest thing to do here?” Indeed, the NFL all but admitted as much back in August when they explained why more than 20 acts of violence reported by Brown’s wife (including some while she was pregnant) equaled a one-game suspension in a statement that included this sentence:
“…despite multiple attempts to speak with her about this incident and her previous statements, she declined to speak with us.”
I haven’t experienced domestic violence and I don’t believe myself qualified to judge it. Indeed, I am only confident enough to make one assertion: Roger Goodell definitely shouldn’t be the one dealing with it.
Coupled with the fact the police also “declined” their requests for information, the NFL did the only thing you’d expect an organization that earned $12 billion in 2015 alone to do: give up.
One game and let’s move on.
Likewise, the New York Giants decided it was easier to keep a kicker who’d been with the team since 2013 and even made the Pro Bowl rather than go to the trouble of finding somebody less likely to abuse his wife (as Brown acknowledged doing).
Then there was a public outcry and the equation changed: suddenly a 37-year-old kicker was pretty damn expendable.
This is of course exactly what happened with Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice back in 2014. (Though in Rice’s case, the NFL originally cracked down for a whopping two games.) Just like with Brown, the NFL proved themselves incapable of finding their own ass if you spotted them a map and an extra hand, as they didn’t take the abuse seriously until TMZ found the horrific video of Rice knocking out his then fiancée Janay and dragging her unconscious body from an elevator.
And only then did the NFL and the Ravens take action: Suddenly Rice was more trouble than he was worth and he was out of the league and he hasn’t been back since.
Now 29, Rice is unlikely ever to return to the Pro Bowl form of his peak years, but he likely could fill in effectively for at least a few plays each game. This leads to the question: Does Ray Rice deserve another chance? (Making huge money to play football is decidedly a privilege, not an inalienable right.)
There are reasons to argue that Rice does. He’s been out of the league for two full seasons and counting: If nothing else, he’s paid a financial price. More importantly, he seems to have conducted himself about as well as a person can after doing something that in the eyes of many is beyond forgiveness.
Jane McManus wrote about Rice in 2015 for espnW in the article “Why Ray Rice Deserves a Second Chance.” She reported Rice had “admitted culpability and completed every court- and NFL-mandated step on his path”—the piece begins with a brief account of his addressing the football team at his alma mater, Rutgers, and warning them not to follow his path, because the elevator assault overshadowed everything else in his life. She notes he married Janay (they are expecting a second child). In general, Rice comes across as someone who recognizes he committed a monstrous act and wants to atone for it—he has since promised, if signed by a team, to donate his entire salary to domestic violence programs.
My instinct is to give Rice another chance. I have no idea if he’s genuinely repentant or if this is all an attempt to get back in the NFL before his window as an athlete completely closes, but if this inspires other players — or other people in general — to put in the long, hard, slow work of improving themselves as people, it seems worth giving him the benefit of the doubt.
“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.” Yep, that’s the problem, Roger: We keep misunderstanding things!
That said, it’s not my call—I haven’t experienced domestic violence and I don’t believe myself qualified to judge it. Indeed, I am only confident enough to make one assertion: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell definitely shouldn’t be the one dealing with it.
Let us remember that this is a man willing to spend a year and a half on Deflategate, yet when faced with a second Ray Rice situation, he treated it in exactly the same half-assed manner.
I’m not sure if Roger Goodell is qualified for any of his duties—he’s the man who heard about cleats honoring 9/11 and went, We’d better crack down on those—but he’s damn sure incapable of dealing with domestic violence.
May someone else handle these matters for the NFL, and may it ideally be a woman, and may it even more ideally be someone with actual experience with this issue, as opposed to the fellow who responds to the criticism that he seems to be more bothered by touchdown celebrations than he is by brutalized women by noting: “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.”
Yep, that’s the problem, Roger: We keep misunderstanding things!
So to NFL owners, who can’t be thrilled about double-digit dips in TV viewership this season, I plead: Make the change soon, so next time there’s a tough question to answer—like whether even someone as controversial as Josh Brown might someday deserve another shot—we’ll have someone around qualified to answer it.