Goodell discovered as much in the aftermath of his season-long suspension of Josh Gordon for drug abuse. Now, some might ask, how does the suspension of Gordon, a Pro Bowl wide receiver for the Cleveland Browns, relate to domestic violence?
Anybody who raises that question can’t be an NFL fan, because fans know that the Gordon suspension will be forever tied to Goodell’s suspension of Ray Rice, a Baltimore Ravens star whose brutal attack on his now-wife was caught on an elevator camera.
For knocking her unconscious, Rice got a two-game suspension, which proved one thing: It’s easier on an athlete’s bank account to beat a woman senseless than to misuse drugs.
That’s the message fans were left with after reviewing the punishment for each man. One, Gordon’s, was an overreach; the other, Rice’s, was so light as not to be a penalty at all.
It was those unequal punishments that brought the two issues together; it was those unequal punishments that touched off a firestorm; it was the reaction to those unequal punishments that forced Goodell to step back and admit he failed football fans.
“My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families,” Goodell said in a statement. “I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
As NFL fans know, Goodell isn’t a man who admits his mistakes. Fans know that much from seeing Goodell’s actions in the concussion settlement and from his continuing support of the Washington, D.C., franchise’s racist nickname. He has been steadfast in his stance on both.
Yet even Goodell couldn’t ignore the chorus of criticism that rang from the mountaintops across the NFL landscape after he announced Rice’s punishment.
In his own words Thursday, Goodell said his charge as commissioner has been to uphold the integrity of the NFL shield, a multibillion-dollar enterprise. He has handled that task well, making owners richer than ever.
But in leading the league into this hi-tech era, Goodell has had his fumbles, and none of them caught the public’s attention like the inappropriate sentences handed down to two star athletes.
His decisions were so misguided that he had no choice but to acknowledge his mistake. The public is softening its sentiments on the use of weed, but domestic violence has never shown itself to be an issue the public favors.
NFL fans looked at the two-game suspension of Rice as an affront to American principles: Men don’t beat women in America. And fans haven’t stopped voicing criticism of Goodell since he ruled lightly on Rice.
It was, as everybody knows, the wrong ruling. Goodell knows it better than anybody else.
“Although the NFL is celebrated for what happens on the field, we must be equally vigilant in what we do off the field,” he said in a letter to owners. “At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence.”
In this statement, Roger Goodell did get something right.
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