Bravo: Time To Give Roger Goodell Some Credit on Domestic Violence
The NFL was listening after all.
A league that never admits a mistake changed course today and announced a raft of new additions to a practically nonexistent domestic violence policy. It's a turnaround that could give you whiplash -- from clinging to consistency in low penalties, to taking a lead on the issue in three short weeks.
The six-game suspension for a first domestic violence offense and potential lifetime ban on the second? That's just the headline. In the letter obtained by espnW earlier today, Goodell lays out how these penalties will apply to coaches, owners, players, the guy who hands out water bottles during timeouts -- everybody who gets an NFL or team paycheck.
Here's more: The league plans to take its message to high school and college locker rooms to address domestic violence and sexual assault. Think of how potentially impactful that can be. Women have advocated that platform for years -- and so have some important men's groups -- but to have the wealthiest professional league in the country take it up? The NFL's voice carries weight among that crowd.
The league implemented these changes just a few weeks after announcing a two-game suspension for Ray Rice, who was allegedly caught on an elevator surveillance camera striking his then-fiancée. Another video shows him pulling her apparently unconscious body out of the elevator minutes later.
If the NFL had issued even the standard four-game suspension, it could have saved itself a lot of trouble as the sports public yawned and moved on. But botching it as badly as Goodell did necessitated a wholesale policy change.
The league essentially conducted its own listening tour in crafting a new policy, and today the changes elicited a positive response. The same women who decried that ridiculously low Rice penalty have flooded my inbox with gratitude over the newly minted initiative.
Is it perfect? Nothing is. Rice still has only two games to sit this season because the policy isn't retroactive.
And admittedly, expanding the platform of the personal conduct policy isn't ideal. Goodell has a lot of power to investigate and penalize players even if they haven't been found guilty. If the league and NFL Players Association worked together to put this policy into the collective bargaining agreement with neutral arbitration on appeals, there would be a greater sense of fairness on the player side.
There are people who say six games is too light, or that a lifetime ban is too harsh. Some think the policy is an incentive for false reports in order to punish an ex, or incentive for a partner not to report an abusive player lest they lose six game checks.
The fact that the NFL will be adjudicating those cases means it isn't a foolproof system, but the league can't stand aside and issue a game here, two games there, and expect the fan base to accept it. The NFL is trying to gain more women as fans, and letting domestic abusers skate isn't the way to do it.
The great majority of NFL players and personnel will never be subject to this policy but it's still important in that it sends a message.
I'm not generally optimistic about these things, but this month the NCAA issued a resolution that athletic departments should not be involved in sexual assault cases on campus. The Department of Education has also informed colleges that they must investigate cases of sexual violence on campus and released a list of schools currently who have mishandled them.
These issues all have a similar root -- they involve violence against women and are crimes of power and control regardless of the perpetrator's gender.
Too often these crimes have been ignored and improperly investigated, and victims have been smeared and blamed. That injustice can be magnified when a person with power, an athlete, is accused.
With the confluence of these new policies, with a spotlight on this issue, it's almost possible to imagine a time when these issues are taken seriously.
At the very least, the NFL's new measures are a first step in that direction.