by Ron Borges
Talk of Fame Network
For all the questions swirling around the National Football League today, the most obvious one may, in the end, be the most difficult to answer. What kind of league do the men who own the NFL's 32 franchises want?
Has it become a place where anything goes unless a video shows up...or some poor sap smokes marijuana?
Fans of pro football have to begin asking themselves the same question since its their obsession that makes the NFL the most profitable sports organization in the world but also one whose foundation was rocked by a week of shocking revelations of sex, lies and videotapes, not to mention domestic violence and child abuse.
A 27-year-old Oklahoma stripper claims Cowboys' 70-year-old owner Jerry Jones sexually assaulted her in 2009 and then pressured her to leave the state of Texas. Jones' attorney called it a "shakedown.''
Ravens' running back Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely after a video of him spitting on and then punching his fiancée in the face in an Atlantic City casino elevator became public. The NFL denied ever seeing the tape and Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed they'd tried mightily to get a copy of it. Less than 24 hours after he made that claim, a New Jersey law enforcement official said the NFL had been sent and received a copy of the tape on April 9. Goodell was immediately facing a firestorm and tried to quell it by asking former FBI head Robert Mueller to launch an "independent'' investigation of the matter.
It quickly came to light that Mueller works for the same law firm where Ravens' president Dick Cass was once a partner. Independent? Few people believe it, or much else of what the NFL is saying now.
Meanwhile the league was characterizing Rice's explanation of what happened as "ambiguous'' and "inconsistent,'' while the team's general manager, Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, said "Ray didn't lie.'' If he didn't, how did Goodell originally give him only a two-game suspension and how could Ravens' head coach John Harbaugh call him "a good guy''? Do the NFL's "good guys'' spit on and beat their women?
Meanwhile a local prosecutor in New Jersey claimed Rice got no special treatment when allowed into a diversion program that would expunge his record if completed and he had no further problems. Less than two days later, a study showed in over 15,000 such domestic violence cases in New Jersey, less than one per cent received such a slap on the wrist.
Now Rice is said to be set to appeal the indefinite suspension Goodell imposed after the vicious video went viral, claiming double jeopardy. His union will ask that Goodell, whose actions are now under investigation, recues himself and a special arbitrator be appointed.
With Sunday's games promising a respite from a week of ugliness, another bombshell hit Friday when Vikings' All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse for allegedly beating his four-year old with a tree branch, known as a switch. Peterson admitted to the act but said he never intended to hurt the boy. The boy's doctor disagreed and pictures of the open wounds all over the child's body were shocking. Peterson said he regretted the unintended injuries before turning himself in to Texas authorities. The Vikings deactivated him for Sunday's game with the Patriots.
One night earlier, Panthers aged and trembling owner, Jerry Richardson, choked back tears as he denied being insensitive to domestic violence despite the fact his All-Pro defensive lineman Greg Hardy had been allowed to continue playing despite being convicted by a judge of domestic abuse of his former girl friend. The details of that attack were chilling. Richardson claimed he was allowing "due process,'' which of late has become as overused a term in the NFL as "pass interference.''
By the end of the week Hardy was deactivated and head coach Ron Rivera, who had defended his continuing to play, claimed "It was my decision, and it was in the best interest of the Carolina Panthers.'' He sounded ridiculous.
Meanwhile, the 49ers, whose head coach claims to have zero tolerance for domestic abuse, continued to play defensive lineman Ray McDonald, who has been arrested on domestic abuse charges but not yet charged. The 49ers cited "due process.'' On Sunday, former San Francisco mayor and California lieutenant governor Gavin Newsome and his wife called the 49ers' refusal to deactivate McDonald a "painful affront to every victim of domestic violence (that) sends a troubling message to our community and especially our children that 'zero tolerance' are empty words, not real actions.''
Meanwhile 12 members of the House Judiciary Committee publicly called for more transparency in the NFL's handling of the Rice case and Senators from both parties harshly reprimanded Goodell for his stumbling actions. Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal cited a "credibility gap'' in Goodell's statements and said, "If these reports are true, Commissioner Goodell must go, for the good of the NFL and its fans. The current leadership of the NFL cannot be trusted to fairly, genuinely implement policies that address domestic violence."
The owners have rallied around Goodell, even in the face of the Marriott Corporation and Campbell Soup publicly saying they were carefully watching how these issues are handled, a veiled threat of a possible advertisers boycott. That would change the dynamic immediately because it's always about the money in today's NFL and that's the real problem.
Since Goodell took over nearly nine years ago, he's been paid over $100 million. He's also seen 53 players arrested on domestic abuse charges, some multiple times. Those players were suspended a total of 13 games combined.
Pink shoe laces and wrist bands on Breast Concern Awareness Month won't cover up what it appears the NFL has become: a league with many good men but one that tolerates and protects far too many who are not. It is a league where a player can spit on his fiancée, knock her cold and be called a "good guy'' by his boss. It's a league where the blind eye is valued in management as much as the hawk eye is in quarterbacks.
Richie Incognito was a troubled player who was tossed out of two college football programs for violent behavioral problems. The NFL employed him any way and those problems continued, finally exploding in the ugly bullying incidents that tore apart the Miami Dolphins last season. He was briefly suspended but that was lifted and Goodell recently said he was eligible to return to the NFL. Why? They don't have enough problems?
The issue for Roger Goodell and the NFL's owners is no longer what they knew and when they knew it, but do they care at all anymore about anything besides swelling revenue and Sunday victory?
Photo courtesy of the National Football League.