Just a few weeks ago, the biggest commotion off the field dealt with Michael Sam and the possible distraction that some sadly felt he would pose as the first openly-gay player in the NFL. But then, TMZ dropped their full, never-before-seen video of Ray Rice’s domestic abuse incident this past March. One would think the video of him dragging his unconscious then-fiancée Janay Palmer out of an elevator would be more than enough evidence to warrant grandiose punishment, but apparently footage of the aftermath only warrants a two-game suspension. I guess there are worse offenses out there, like when Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon and Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington tested positive for the use of marijuana and were subsequently suspended for the entire 2014 season (although reform is reportedly on the way). But this new video definitely changed things. The film shows Rice’s then-fiancée approach him angrily in what seemed to already be an incredibly heated altercation. Rice then lays a hard punch to her face, knocking her unconscious. He was released by the Ravens almost immediately upon the video going public.
It was later suggested that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had already seen the full footage of the Rice incident. Goodell, who had been receiving harsh criticism for months, admitted in late August that he made a mistake and announced a new, stricter policy for domestic violence where first-time offenders would be suspended for six games and second-time offenders for at least a year. Upon TMZ’s release of the video, Goodell, in a desperate move to save face, suspended Rice from the NFL indefinitely. Although Goodell continued to deny that neither he, nor anyone else in the league, had been given a copy of the full tape, criticism continued to mount. Journalists and media now began to call for Goodell’s resignation. The next day, a report by the Associate Press surfaced indicating that a copy of the full tape had been sent to a league executive back in April.
In what could have only been a sad, desperate attempt to retain their superstar running back, the Ravens organization reportedly spent months misdirecting information about Rice. They did everything from telling executives to take a very relaxed strategy towards gathering evidence, to doing anything within their power to keep the tape from getting out, to urging Goodell to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension. This is a far cry from the organization who terminated Rice’s contract and is allowing all of its fans to exchange their Ray Rice jerseys. So, in an ironic twist of fate, it is not Rice’s team, nor his agent, or the commissioner of the National Football League, but TMZ who serves as the hero.
Just when Goodell and the NFL’s reputation couldn’t seemingly get any worse… they did. On September 11, Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was indicted by a Montgomery County, Texas grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child that took place way back on May 18. Peterson was accused of beating his four-year-old child repeatedly with a tree branch on his back, legs, butt, genitals and ankles. It was none other than TMZ that sprung into action again, releasing photographs of the child’s slashed up legs. Peterson was subsequently deactivated by the Vikings for a game. Now, however it is beginning to look like Peterson’s career is over in Minnesota.
Slightly murkier than Rice’s shameful behavior, debate has raged over how parents should discipline their children. Many athletes claimed that this was a common form of discipline where they grew up. Ex-NBA star Charles Barkley even came out in semi-support of Peterson in an interview with ESPN’s Jim Rome: “I think Adrian said ‘I went overboard.’ But as far as being from the South, we all spanked our kids — I got spanked, me and my two brothers.” But let me just pose this question. How would you feel if Adrian Peterson, a six foot, one inch, 217 pound NFL running back ripped a branch off a tree, pulled off all of its leaves and proceeded to whip you repeatedly until he could no longer keep track? Again, Peterson’s son was defenseless at the age of four and this is what happened to him. There is definitely a fine line between discipline and child abuse. Regardless of where you come from and what values you hold, Peterson crossed far over that line.
Naturally, Roger Goodell hosted a press conference. Goodell gave all of the right answers. In other words, he answered questions as safely as possible, desperately trying to save face while at the same time painting a weak picture of himself as calm, cool and collected. Among other things, he stated that he never once considered stepping down as commissioner, that he knew personnel changes needed to be made and the process was underway, and that he believed he had the full support of all 32 teams in the league. He admitted that the league’s domestic violence policy was not up to snuff and still contends that no one in the league had seen the entire Rice video before TMZ had released it.
While something will never sit quite right with many people about Goodell and the state of the league in general, the bottom line is, they are learning and improving. Remember, there are 1,696 players in the National Football League. There are maybe four that we are talking about off the field in this light. This is not a reason to stop watching football. Hopefully, with the right motivations, the NFL can work towards a brighter, more just future.