This is one of those times.
Clusterfuck is the best word to describe how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the league are handling various off the field issues.
In February then-Ravens running back Ray Rice was arrested after punching his then-fiancée, now-wife Janay Palmer in an elevator at an Atlantic City, NJ hotel. At the time of the incident the only video tape of the incident that was released to the general public was of Rice dragging Ms. Palmer out of the elevator.
The Atlantic City grand jury indicted Rice on third-degree aggravated assault which if convicted carried a jail sentence of three to five years in prison and a fine of $15,000. The charges were later dropped after Rice agreed to undergo court-supervised counseling.
Commissioner Goodell questioned both Rice and Palmer about the incident in the same room.
There is a problem with that.
In domestic violence cases the attacker has intimate knowledge about the victim. Placing the victim in the same room with their assailant during questioning is typically not a good idea according to experts who study domestic violence cases and their impact. Also there are incidents of victims changing their stories in order to avoid having their attacker facing harsh punishments because they have a connection. A child, one person is dependent on the other financially, and countless other factors.
Then there is the rationalization by the victim that it will never happen again. "He was angry. It was a one-time thing. I didn't make dinner fast enough. He promised that it will never happen again. It was my fault. We were both drunk."
Rightfully so, Goodell was sharply criticized for questioning Rice and Palmer in the same room.
Goodell suspended Rice for the first two games of the season for the incident in July 2014. Prior to the start of the regular season Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon was originally suspended for the entire 16-game season for marijuana usage. The NFL and the players association recently agreed to a new drug testing policy that reduced Gordon's punishment to 10 games.
The NFL has 32 teams that play their home games in 22 states. Two states, Colorado and Washington, passed voter initiatives to legalize marijuana in 2012. California, home to the most NFL franchises with three, has medical marijuana and made efforts to decriminalize it. Massachusetts, home to most recent NFL dynasty, also have done the same as California.
New Jersey, where the Giants and Jets play their home games and site of the most recent Super Bowl, had a highly publicized fight over medical marijuana that pitted Governor Chris Christie against the New Jersey legislature. The next Super Bowl will be played in Arizona which also has medical marijuana.
Ohio, where the Browns play their home games, have decriminalized marijuana possession laws.
Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, Tennessee, and Wisconsin still prohibit the usage of marijuana. 14 teams play their home games in these 9 states.
So what Commission Goodell said that despite having two teams play in states where it is legal to use marijuana and having 16 other teams play in states that have relaxed marijuana laws of varying degrees is that smoking marijuana is now five times worse than assaulting your intimate partner?
Or consider the case of Colts owner Jim Irsay.
In March 2014, Irsay was arrested under suspicion of driving under the influence and possession of prescription medication bottles containing various colors of pills according to the police report.
In August, Irsay pled guilty and was sentenced to one year probation, to continue his treatment in a rehabilitation center, and ordered to pay $368.50 in court costs
His punishment from the league: six games and fined $500,000, the maximum under league rules.
So, driving drunk and possession of various medications is worth six games while assaulting your intimate partner is only one-third worse than that and smoking marijuana where more than half the league plays their home games in states that have relaxed marijuana possession laws is one-and-two-thirds worse than Irsay's transgressions.
Upon hearing from various critics that the suspension of Rice was too lenient, Commissioner Goodell imposed a new policy that any player involved in a domestic dispute would be suspended for six games for a first offense and a second offense would result in a lifetime ban.
As Rice's two-game suspension was ending, the full tape of the incident surfaced which resulted in Rice being suspended indefinitely and the Baltimore Ravens releasing Rice from the team. Rice is attempting to appeal the indefinite suspension claiming that he is being punished twice for the same crime along with that the Ravens and the league knew about the full video of the incident and are participating in a cover-up of the incident.
Then came the news that Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse in Texas after hitting his four year old son with a tree branch and also striking another child as reported by a local Houston television station.
The Vikings originally did the right thing by suspending Peterson for their Week 2 home opener against the Patriots, but brought him back to play in Sunday's game at New Orleans. Reactivating Peterson drew a lot of outrage. So much that several sponsors have threatened to pull advertisements from the team. Radison Hotels has pulled their sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings.
The Vikings decided to not let Peterson play after all.
Then there was the Carolina Panthers Greg Hardy who was convicted of domestic violence but is currently appealing the case. According to the police, Hardy assaulted his girlfriend and threw her on a pile of firearms. Hardy played in the Panthers season opener but has since been placed on the commissioner's exempt list meaning he will not be playing while his case is being heard. The same thing facing Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer who was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend and child.
Prior to the start of the season San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said that, "If you put your hand on a woman, then you're done in his book." 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic violence.
McDonald has started every game for the 49ers this season. NFL Hall of Famer Jerry Rice who played most of his career with San Francisco called for McDonald to be deactivated in an interview with Sports Illustrated. California Lieutenant Governor and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome and his wife, Jen Seibel Newsome, called for McDonald to sit while the legal process does its job.
I think I have highlighted the current issues facing the league.
One sponsor had this to say on the recent incident plaguing the NFL:
"We are disappointed and increasingly concerned by the recent incidents that have overshadowed this NFL season. We are not yet satisfied with the league’s handling of behaviors that so clearly go against our own company culture and moral code. We have shared our concerns and expectations with the league."
That was said by Anheuser-Busch.
As in the creators of the beer Budweiser and Bud Light.
As comedian Jon Stewart said on his program during the week:
“How crazy is this. A company that sells alcohol is the moral touchstone of the NFL. Alcohol. Maybe one of the only substances that is proven scientifically to increase the likelihood of domestic abuse.”
Then there is also this.
Remember when former Buccaneers & Colts coach, now NBC Sunday Night Football studio analyst said that drafting Michael Sam would be a distraction?
Michael Sam is currently on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad and if you want to talk about a team loaded with distractions…
It was known for many years that linebacker Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson played Super Bowl XIII high on cocaine.
In 1994, right tackle Erik Williams totaled his Mercedes-Benz at the LBJ-Dallas North Tollway interchange in Dallas. Williams was driving at 75 miles per hour and had a blood alcohol level of .17 which at the time was above the .10 limit and today would be double the limit of .08.
There was the infamous "White House" located in an upper-class Irving neighborhood. The house was rented to receiver Alvin Harper where he had set up a very elaborate video recording system to document certain adult activities. According to the book Boys Will Be Boys, a cleaning crew of two women were hired to clean the house and were paid $75 a week. Among the items they had to clean up: used condoms, discarded bras, sex toys, and crusty carpet stains.
In March 1996, receiver Michael Irvin and former Cowboys tight end Alfredo Roberts were in an Irving hotel caught with cocaine and prostitutes. Irvin was suspended the first five games of the 1996 season.
During the pre-season in 1997, head coach Barry Switzer was arrested for carrying a loaded firearm in his carry-on bag through Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. Though Switzer faced legal consequences for his actions, the NFL did not administer any punishment to the coach.
In 1998, Irvin was involved in an incident where he stabbed rookie offensive lineman Everett McIver with a pair of scissors during training camp in Wichita Falls.
Two years ago Josh Brent was driving drunk and totaled his vehicle. In the car was teammate Jerry Brown who was killed. After the incident, Brent WAS ON THE SIDELINES DURING THE COWBOYS HOME GAME AGAINST THE STEELERS!!!
Owner Jerry Jones was rightfully criticized for that.
Brent was convicted of intoxication manslaughter and sentenced to 180 days in prison and 10 years probation.
As for Owner Jones, he is being sued for alleged sexual assault after racy photos hit the internet earlier this month.
Dallas sports anchor Dale Hansen's words seem almost prophetic when he discussed Michael Sam back in February 2014:
You beat a woman and drag her down a flight of stairs, pulling her hair out by the roots? You're the fourth guy taken in the NFL draft.
You kill people while driving drunk? That guy's welcome.
Players caught in hotel rooms with illegal drugs and prostitutes? We know they're welcome.
Players accused of rape and pay the woman to go away?
You lie to police trying to cover up a murder?
We're comfortable with that.
You love another man? Well, now you've gone too far!
The NFL currently has a distraction. And it is not from the player who has a boyfriend.
This distraction has highlighted the hypocrisy and inconsistencies with disciplining league employees. A player gets busted for smoking a joint and is suspended for 10 games despite two NFL franchises residing in states where marijuana is legal. An owner who was convicted for possessing what is believed to be narcotics and driving under the influence gets a six game suspension. Another owner is facing a sexual assault lawsuit but is not facing any punishment from the league at this time.
On Friday, Commissioner Goodell held a televised press conference about how terribly his league has handled these incidents. He has admitted that he must do better but did not say that he thought about resigning. The questions from the reporters showed how bad the NFL is handling it and how Goodell is unaware of how the general public feels about this.
The lack of transparency and recognition that the league has a problem with disciplining their employees has gotten so bad that Congress might do something about it. Senator Corey Booker (NJ, D) has proposed legislation that would rewrite the tax code to revoke the NFL's tax exempt status as a non-profit entity.
Yes, that is correct. The NFL draws in $10 billion a year but claims it is a non-profit and enjoys certain tax breaks that the average wage earner would wish they could enjoy.
As most of my readers know, I enjoy watching the NFL and sports. I make my picks known in this medium as well with two other people, a gentlewoman from Houston who roots for the Houston Insert-Team-Here that plays Insert-Sport-Here and a gentleman who roots for the Seattle Seahawks and Cincinnati Reds in Arizona.
But I am also a human being and know that sports is not everything.
Commissioner Goodell can chair a panel, hire experts in the field of domestic violence and tout their experiences as women, and bring in a former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to conduct a so-called independent investigation into how the Rice incident was handled. The damage was long done and it will take time for Goodell and his league to rebuild credibility.
People still watch the NFL (raises hand).
3. Sunday Night NFL Pregame Show on NBC
2. Thursday Night Football airing on CBS
1. Sunday Night Football on NBC
And it will be very likely that on Sunday the most watched television program will be the Broncos at Seahawks in the late CBS window.
But I and my fellow football prognosticators and other sports fans will wonder if the league has really learned its lesson from this.
There is a phrase that has been thrown around lately, "Protect The Shield." It is meaning defend the NFL brand because it is shaped like a shield.
Right now public confidence in the NFL is shaken even though a majority of its players, coaches, and executives do the right thing when away from the stadium.
In 1920, nearly a century ago, baseball faced their own crisis around the integrity of the blossoming game. It was revealed that members of the Chicago White Sox had engaged in a conspiracy to throw the 1919 World Series. Players, who were not being paid well by management, agreed to lose the series to the Cincinnati Reds if they were rewarded by gamblers for their efforts. The Reds won the then-best-of-nine series 5-3.
In response, baseball hired federal judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis as the first commissioner of baseball replacing the three-person panel that oversaw the game's early history. Landis was given total control over major league baseball and one of his first acts was to impose a lifetime ban on the White Sox who participated in the conspiracy. One of those players was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson who amassed 1,772 hits in his career and hit .356 in his career which is third highest career batting average. In the 1919 series, he hit .375, went 5-for-12 with runners in scoring position, and hit one home run and drove in 6 runs.
While the penalty was harsh, it restored trust in the sport and baseball experienced a revival in the 1920s in part due to the first Yankees dynasty led by Babe Ruth.
Not once during Goodell's press conference did he offer his resignation. If he cares about the league, resignation as commissioner must happen. If he does not resign, then the owners must fire him and follow what baseball did nearly 95 years ago by bringing in an outsider. After all it is about "Protecting The Shield" at this point.
Clusterfucks are difficult to get out of. The NFL is in one right now and the first step in recognizing you are in one is to admit it.