Has the NFL had a change of heart?
At the very least, it seems that league has been experiencing a growing realization that the public does not accept their current disciplinary policy on matters of domestic violence among their players, as enunciated through their actions—and that it would be detrimental to their reputation not to do something about it.
When commissioner Roger Goodell first came down with the two-game suspension for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice following his arrest for domestic violence after knocking his now wife unconscious, I wrote that it was not a decision that was in the league’s best interests.
Commissioner Goodell, and other top ranking officials, often invoke the idea of “the integrity of the shield” when explaining decisions on disciplinary actions. In other words, even in cases in which no crime has been committed, nor league policy explicitly violated, the league still reserves the right to discipline players that have compromised the integrity of the NFL’s public image.
Rice certainly did that, but the most damaging facet of this situation to the league’s reputation has without question been the toothless nature of the discipline rendered in response. Reactions have been strong in opposition to the punishment, particularly from the NFL’s female fan base, as well as from domestic violence advocacy groups.
It is thus with little surprise, yet with a dose of cynicism, that I accept a recent report that the league is considering establishing harsher penalties in the future for players who commit acts of domestic violence.
For too long, quite frankly, the NFL has largely turned a blind eye to instances of domestic violence within its own ranks, a charge to which the Pittsburgh Steelers are not immune. Were it not for the surveillance footage and the interjection of TMZ, it’s not inconceivable that they would have attempted to sweep Rice’s arrest under the rug.
But, as former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. And now that the issue of domestic violence has been graphically dragged into the sunlight, it’s better late than never that the NFL seems ready to take the issue more seriously.
According to an article in The Washington Post, a source familiar with the league’s internal discussions believes that “we need to have stricter penalties” for cases of domestic violence. “I think you will see that”, he said. “I believe the commissioner and others would like to see stricter penalties. We need to be more vigilant”.
The same source said that many “were disturbed” by aspects of the Rice case and that he believes that we “will see something in probably the next few weeks”. It is suggested that a first offense could be in the range of four to six games, while repeat offenders could receive a suspension for a full season.
Such disciplinary action would at least be in line with similar penalties that players receive in response to charges of taking performance enhancing substances or other banned substances.
I can’t speak for an audience any more broad than myself, but for me, such changes would at least begin to repair the damage the NFL has inflicted upon itself by its lax treatment of employees involved in issues of domestic violence.