America’s New Sport

Old National Pastime: Football.

New National Pastime: Piling on National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell, over his poor and haphazard seeming handling of the game suspension of former Ravens running back Ray Rice under the league’s player conduct policy, for a first time incident last winter where a drunken Rice heavily struck his then fiance, also drunk; causing her to fall down, hit her head, and be temporarily knocked out.

(It appears that although this certainly does not excuse or even mitigate the initial causative action, Rice’s fiance at the time, then Janay Palmer, now Janay Rice, was knocked out in part because of the alcohol, and was not too badly harmed, relatively speaking anyway.)

Although Goodell initially apologized after imposing a rather tepid appearing two game suspension, and revamped the league’s specific domestic violence policy to a six game suspension for a first time offense, at issue is whether Goodell or the league had seen a copy of the security camera footage showing the blow to likely be harder and more direct than, perhaps, the NFL had believed.

Or, more pertinently, did the video show the blow be harder and more direct than the league had been in part led or encouraged to believe, by a somewhat hypocritical Ravens football team (or Rice): A team which otherwise, when the video did surface, dropped Rice from the team like a hot potato, and likely prompted the Commissioner, at least in part, into his similarly knee jerk “indefinite league suspension of Rice,”also just hours after the video was released just this past September 8.

In some of the Ravens’ defense, head coach John Harbaugh, along with director of player personnel George Kokinis, according to a recent ESPN OTL investigative report, wanted to cut Rice back when the incident initially occurred. According to the report, Harbaugh was likely overruled by others in the organization, some of who may have had a somewhat pollyannaish view of the incident.  (According to the ESPN, likely not President Dick Cass, who is alleged to have been told the tape was “f_ _ _ing horrible,” by Rice’s attorney Michael Diamondstein.) And who in some part looked at Rice as family – particularly since Rice otherwise had an unblemished record, had named his and Janay’s daughter “Rayven,” in honor of the team, had the Baltimore part of the team name tattooed on his forearm, had raised millions of dollars in charity money for sick children, and whose wife Janay stood staunchly by this side and defended him over the incident.)

The released video of the actual battery by Rice (a doctored clip by celebrity news site TMZ that further brands the image into viewers minds by looping the single blow over and over repeatedly), provoked even more of an uproar than had the initial announcement of the two game suspension.

And it do so, notwithstanding the earlier apology over the original short suspension, and the toughening of the league’s domestic violence policy, announced back in late August: In other words, as if the public, as well as the NFL, now knew something much different. (When the basic and relevant facts appeared simply to be visualized by the video, not altered.)

Making the original handling of the matter seem even much more extreme and indefensible than it was, as suggested here and here, the Ravens did then immediately cut Rice within a few hours of the video surfacing. They should not have done this since they elected not to initially, particularly since, as several Ravens seem to make clear, Rice leveled with them).

Making matters worse, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also, again within hours of the release of the video, and after the Ravens had cut him, then suspended Rice indefinitely from the league. Goodell quite possibly did this in ill thought out knee jerk reaction to the Ravens action, the initial inappropriately short suspension, the public outcry, and some sort of – again, ill thought out – attempt to fix damage to the NFL’s image and their handling of this matter.

And yesterday, this piece appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, on the issue. It is a piece that seems to throw all sense of proportion and perspective to the wind; something that, if not always to such an exaggerated degree, has been seemingly commonplace with respect to this latest national soap opera and largely nationally imagined monster scandal issue.

It is a soap opera fueled by the otherwise somewhat irrelevant fact that it revolves around a disturbing issue that otherwise receives too little attention – and one which, outside of this one of tens of thousands of such incidents that involve an NFL player and a botched handling of the player’s league game suspension penalty, is likely still receiving too little of the right kind of attention:

That is, the issue of domestic violence: A problem which appears to be slightly less prevalent among NFL players than in society at large, not far more prevalent. But even if the research suggesting that it is less prevalent is incorrect (and there could be several reasons for this), it is still a very widespread and systemic problem among society at large, as much as in the NFL.

Goodell’s handling of the matter, nevertheless, has been very poor, and more than a little ironic, as some NFL players are mildly delighted about some of the heavy scapegoating scrutiny being heaped upon Goodell. Goodell, who, himself, has for years been arbiter, judge, jury and moral dictator, as far as the league goes, for NFL players – and (until now) resistant to reasonably ceding some of that excessive authority to independent arbitration for player disputes.

As Sally Jenkins, in the provocative article on the matter linked to above therein re-emphasizes, former NFL over achiever and defensive standout James Harrison, who hates Goodell (“‘I’d have whispered in his ear, ‘Why don’t you quit and do something else, like start your own league in flag football?‘”) famously tweeted after the initial story broke (and which was re-tweeted over 29,000 times): “Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun, huh?”

Meaning that Goodell always had all the power, dictating what the terms would be for everyone else. Now everyone is shooting for Goodell, instead. (Harrison, who received several penalties by the league for hard hits during his playing time, also humorously tweeted to Goodell what penalty Goodell might impose for his own negligence in overseeing this matter.)

But all this, while a “good,”if unsettling story on its root issue, doesn’t mean this is the scandal of the century, or that Goodell’s conduct has been dastardly or involved what we would consider classic, serious “wrong doing.” Implementing player suspensions is a discretionary, voluntary aspect of the NFL, not a law, and there are human considerations and judgments to be made – even when, as in this case, the issue seems to have been botched through a series of interconnected errors and possibly even prejudices.

Yet the San Francisco Chronicle (it’s fine headline notwithstanding), takes unintentional hyperbole and satire of our new national soap opera to new heights, when, not in satire, the article states that an investigation into Goodell and his NFL team’s handling by a former director of the FBI (which if anything is overkill, and ill-thought for other reasons), overseen by two of most well respected of the thirty two team owners (The Giants John Mara and the Steelers Art Rooney) who employ Goodell and his NFL operators, and for whom the investigation is largely being conducted, is not independent enough

Considering how important the probe is.

“Considering how important the probe is”?

Domestic violence is the important issue, not the “probe” about how the NFL handled what was still a routine league disciplinary matter with minimal consequence to the larger issue.

Yet according to this article, the probe into how the NFL arrived at its “arbitrary” employer related (and completely discretionary) suspension, is so important, that even conducting such an investigation in the first place is not enough. And even having said otherwise unneeded “investigation,” be conducted by a former FBI Director, of all people, is not enough, just because he works for a large law firm that has done business with the NFL, never mind that the investigation is ultimately for the NFL, not some other independent national body or state. Yet this is something which also seems to have been completely lost, even though it remains the most fundamental point regarding this completely discretionary investigation – and one for the NFL owners to learn better how this was handled.

What is this probe over? A cover-up of a huge national crime and subversion of our national election or legislative process?

No. Again, it’s over whether an NFL player got a 2 or 6 (or, above the new policy, 8) game, totally league policy determined, and totally up to the league, suspension, for conduct unrelated to football but consisting of off the field illegal behavior that was already addressed by our legal system, and whether it was “handled right,” by the league therein.

And over whether the NFL saw or ignored a video that may have prevented the NFL from issuing its original watered down 2 game suspension – which it apologized for anyway, before any such video came out. And which would instead have, or should have, correctly caused the player under the specific new league policy instituted after the initial 2 game suspension was issued – and sensibly, under the old policy – to be issued the more appropriate 6 game suspension.

“Yes, this certainly requires an independent counsel at least as dramatic and independent as the Warren Commission, no doubt.” Or maybe the 9/11/01 Commission, the United Nations, or the IPCC. Certainly not something as “measly” as a former FBI Director who works for a law firm that, gasp, has done work for the league, over a completely discretionary and voluntary league game play suspension over otherwise unrelated off the field illicit behavior.

And over the mishandling of a player suspension length that was initially too low, with perhaps insufficient weight given to the chance that the facts were a little less Pollyannaish than the NFL or some on Rice’s team wanted to believe, and the subsequent and somewhat knee jerk alteration of that suspension to a level that was probably too high, and certainly in contravention of the new suspension length for such first time offenses under the very same new domestic violence incidence policy just instituted.  And for an unrelated outside of employment related first time offense which the Country Prosecutor, too leniently or not, saw fit to recommend for a more effective and proactive PreTrial Intervention rather than a likely conviction and probation.

Yes, in keeping, albeit satirically, with the non satirical spirit of the Chronicle’s piece, that certainly is THE scandal of the millennium; and requires a commission of historic national and international significance, and not just by a measly former FBI Director, as so aptly noted in the Chronicle. Itself normally a fine newspaper, but here, joining in the national  hysteria “just a wee bit”; if here the word “wee” in fact is to mean, “to an excessive degree – rather than doing what good journalism is supposed to do – serve as a check upon it.

Maybe when we are done with that, or the NFL is done with that, or both, the broader issue of domestic violence, can be more relevantly, and a little less hysterically, addressed.

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One thought on “America’s New Sport

  1. Pingback: Week 8 NFL Picks Against the Spread « NFL Football Strategy

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