NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a very smart cookie. Yesterday, he announced that Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon would be banned from the league for one year for repeatedly getting busted smoking weed. The same day, he made the public relations gesture to one-up the weed smoking penalty, kicking players who beat their wives out for six games for the first offense and forever for the second.
In doing so, he beat most critics at the pass. But not this one. I am a huge fan of the NFL and support the commissioner and respect the difficult decisions that he has to make to preserve the game and its integrity. But I am not letting him off the hook this time.
When he made the announcement, Goodell admitted bad judgment by suspending Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for only two games. (Rice allegedly knocked his future wife out cold and dragged her out of an elevator.) Goodell’s new severe penalties have been well received by domestic violence-prevention advocates.
“I got it wrong,” said Goodell about the Rice suspension, but claiming an error of his ways does not fully correct the situation. The new rule states that players who are “convicted” of domestic violence must serve the suspensions. It says nothing about players who “allegedly” beat women or players who did not face charges.
Ray Rice did not face charges. Therefore the new six game suspension would not apply to him despite his admission of guilt and video evidence. So under his own rule, the commissioner lied yesterday when he said he didn’t get it right. He did get it right because Ray Rice only “allegedly” hit his then-girlfriend (now wife). The new domestic violence policy would not have affected Rice.
But Goodell’s timing of the new penalties makes a lot of sense. Without his PR intervention yesterday, the critics would have come out of the woodwork.
“You can beat your wife, but you better not get caught smoking a joint.”
The commissioner says he did not get it right in the Ray Rice case. If that is the case, he should suspend Rice for six games. Either that or admit that he did get it right. I welcome the new domestic violence policy, but it is an affirmation of the commissioner’s initial reaction to the Rice case. It is not an “I now see the light” moment. It is a political public relations reaction to what would have been an uproar at a time when the season is about to kickoff… a feel-good time for the league.
Commissioner Goodell, you are doing a great job. The new domestic violence policy will make players think twice in the future about getting physical with women. But be real with the fans. You need to either suspend Ray Rice for six games or admit that you had it right in the first place.
Greg Smith is a Chicago Bears fan, son of a quarterback and high school football coach, and father of two sons who played college football. He is a motivational speaker who uses a wheelchair and has muscular dystrophy.