This post is a part of our People’s Insights monthly brief for October, called “On Responding.”
Background: The Ray Rice debacle
In the beginning of the year, Baltimore Ravens footballer Ray Rice was arrested for assaulting his then fiancé (now wife) in an elevator at a casino. That very week, entertainment channel TMZ released the video of Rice leaving the elevator, dragging his unconscious fiancé behind him.
The video led to public outrage, which was further fueled after a court agreed to drop charges against Rice if he enrolled in counselling, and after NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a suspension of only two games in July. People and players alike were furious that a player who was guilty of domestic violence would get a lighter sentence (two games) than a player who was guilty of substance abuse (in one case, a year-long suspension).
During Rice’s trial, a few more NFL players were accused or found guilty of domestic violence and child abuse, straining the image of the NFL further – especially when the media shared a USA Today database which lists all 765 arrests of NFL players since 2000. 88 of 765 were for domestic violence.
The crisis reached a new peak in September when TMZ released a second video, showing the events that took place within the elevator –Rice punching his fiancé.
By the end of August, Goodell acknowledged that the league needed a stronger violence and abuse policy, and even sent out a memo to the team owners admitting he “didn’t get it right.” But his stance on Rice didn’t change until TMZ released the second video. Hours after the video was released, Goodell announced an indefinite suspension for Rice and the Baltimore Ravens dropped him.
The league also stepped up all their efforts to address the problem of violence, and announced several initiatives in September and October:
- External investigation into the Rice incident
- Partnership with organizations NO MORE, Futures without Violence and Coach for America
- A re-haul of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy, such that first time offenders of violence and abuse will receive a six game ban and repeat offenders a lifetime ban.
- Hiring of female advisors to shape the league’s stance
- A 60 second PSA in which NFL Players say NO MORE, which aired during game time
Watch: NFL Players Say NO MORE :60
- Donations to organizations that offer support to victimes of abuse
- Policy to cater to victims
- Presentation of a 40 minute training video on domestic violence to team owners, which will also be sent to high school and college football coaches nationwide
Reactions: Walk the Talk.
Reform won’t be easy for the NFL, which faces heat from two sides of this issue.
On the one hand, the public, media and other NFL players are demanding it to commit to a serious change in the way it handles cases of violence and abuse. They aren’t happy with the lack of concrete statements and actions on the issue (see John Olivier’s attack on Goodell on Last Week Tonight) and are standing up for change (even current NFL players are criticizing the commissioner on Twitter openly).
Sean Payton was suspended for one year. “Ignorance not an excuse…” Say no mo
— Doug Baldwin Jr (@DougBaldwinJr) September 10, 2014
Ok commissioner, now that the evidence w/RayRice has surfaced.Here is your chance 2 right a wrong&prove your serious about Domestic Violence
— Charlie Batch (@CharlieBatch16) September 8, 2014
On the other hand, the NFL faces some resistance from the players union and guilty players on stricter penalties. For instance, Rice has appealed his indefinite suspension from the league saying that he was honest with Goodell from day one and shouldn’t have been punished ‘twice.’
The true test of the NFL’s turnaround will most likely come in November, when Goodell decides on the penalty for Adrian Peterson, who just pleaded guilty for assaulting his son.