In Interview With USA Today’s FTW, CNN Anchor Rachel Nichols Misses One Key Thing

In her interview with USA Today’s For the Win (FTW) yesterday over the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident/suspension matter, CNN anchor Rachel Nichols had multiple good points. But one thing seems to be repeatedly over-looked in all of this, including by Nichols.

Nichols was asked if Roger Goodell and the NFL had imposed stronger penalties initially, they would then be under such scrutiny in this matter now.

She responded:

RN: I think if Ray Rice had initially been suspended for a year, which at the time would have been by far the harshest penalty ever levied for this sort of thing, this entire spiral would never have occurred. But the initial light punishment sent a message that they didn’t take this issue seriously enough. Not looking hard enough for evidence in the Rice case sent a message they didn’t take this issue seriously enough….

This is true: the initial light punishment of a two game suspension handed down in July, when to the public it sounded like “he hit her, she got knocked out somehow as a result,” did send that message. And there was some outcry. And in Late August, Goodell issued a pretty strong apology; stating he didn’t get it right, and that he league has instituted a new tougher domestic violence policy.

But the media’s job is not only to hold the powerful accountable, but also to provide all the relevant facts and some perspective, and serve as a check upon groupthink and assumption; not add to the latter.

In this matter (and perhaps increasingly on multiple issues in America today, caught as it is in direct competition with the unfiltered free for all of the rest of the Internet, huge corporate backing, and criticism from all over), the media has in large part not just tried to hold Goodell and the NFL accountable, but has also sometimes served to foster groupthink and assumption

The initial light suspension of Rice, while seemingly a mistake at the time made, and certainly a mistake in hindsight as the video showed the facts to be what was thought (and, even, a little worse, as the blow was direct and severe), was not a miscarriage of justice; there were mitigating factors that led to it; the league commissioner did issue an apology after the fact. And the NFL is not the relevant arbiter of justice.

In other words, the initial suspension was a mistake, and did seemingly trivialize the issue. But it was not the glaring indictment on the NFL in terms of its handling of domestic violence offenses by its players, that it has been taken as. (The fact that the Carolina Panther’s Greg Hardy was allowed to play pending his appeal of a domestic violence conviction this summer was also criticized by Nichols, as well as many others; but there is nothing unreasonable in the NFL’s policy to wait until a case has been properly vetted through the court system, though it’s easy to see how it gives the impression otherwise.)

What seems to be happening is that there was little attention paid to the issue of domestic violence, and now all this reasonable outrage over the general issue is being directed at the NFL; with some legitimacy perhaps, but likely not enough to warrant the overall response.

It may not look good, but the NFL is allowed to botch its suspensions.  Rice had an exemplary record. Regardless of the tendencies of woman who are unfortunately subject to a pattern of abuse, the victim’s wishes here are also relevant, and she stood firmly by Rice. There was also no prior history.

According to a report out Friday by ESPN, there is evidence – even if it’s not something the rest of the league, or the public rightfully wants the commissioner to be doing, and the evidence has been refuted by the Ravens – that the Ravens pushed the commissioner a little bit for favorable suspension treatment given Rice’s massive work for children’s charities, exemplary record, contriteness, and, from other sources, his wife’s support.

(Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, in a long press appearance also came out and gave the kind of more specific and honest press conference that Goodell should have given, while also very strongly refuting most of ESPN’s allegations.)

Most importantly of all, the commissioner had the resolution of our court system to go on – including that by a prosecutor and judge who had seen the videotape in question. (This doesn’t exculpate the 2 game suspension, which still seems light even without viewing the tape, but it is extremely relevant to the degree of league culpability).

There is a reasonable argument that the NFL should have looked beyond that – and a stronger one, given, ironically, how strong armed Goodell has often been. (A point made by many).

But the fact that the NFL didn’t, is not the enormous wrongdoing it is being made out to be, given the multitude of seeming mitigating facts. That is, not of the action that Rice took, but of the NFL’s handling of the matter).  And given that the NFL is not an arbiter on justice, but an employer, if a visible and highly scrutinized one whose players, some feel, may serve as role models.  (Which in turn an argument for the NFL to hold players to a higher standard than average employees for otherwise unrelated behavior, but also an argument for the media not to sensationalize stories of otherwise only technically “public” wrongdoing that are otherwise one of hundreds of thousands of such instances of wrongdoing.)

The NFL may have made a mistake in not digging further. And their initial handling of the matter gave a bad impression. And, even with the apology and new domestic violence policy guidelines a month later, and the seeming knee jerk indefinite suspension (followed then by an oddly directed investigation into the initial Rice handling) barely two weeks after that when the video surfaced, their subsequent handling of it didn’t help much; and in some ways, oddly, hurt them more.

As has the fact that Goodell hasn’t come right out and cited what he is specifically sorry for, and what the NFL specifically got wrong, and why it did, rather than all of the generic seeming broad statements and platitudes he has seemed to utter; which to a very non receptive American audience, inclined to already not give him any benefit of the doubt, has not gone over well.

But it has largely been perception and a snowballing of media attention, as well as the imbalanced stimuli of a provocative video (unlike in the hundreds of thousands of cases where there is no video), greatly magnified by the Raven’s and NFL’s immediate and knee jerk response to that video in marked contrast to their earlier handling, that has created a lot of the impression that exists today.

Not just Goodell’s poor handling of this.

The real question is whether or not Goodell also dissembled over the matter.

In terms of the NFL and league and its public trust, that is more egregious than just poor judgement and handling on the matter, no matter how much we want to perhaps questionably conflate the “seriousness” of the broader topic of domestic violence – which nearly 1 in 5 men men has acknowledged engaging in (although presumably many incidents were also less severe than Rice’s pretty severe blow) – with how the NFL happens to handle its own league disciplinary actions for one player, over one, one time incident, for a case that was released from the court system to the PreTrial Prevention (PTI) program on the advice of a prosecutor, favorable or now, who asserted the case otherwise would have led to probation, which is less proactive and helpful than PTI.


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