How the NFL Can Tackle Domestic Violence
In the wake of a misguided two-game suspension for running back Ray Rice, it's clear to everyone except the NFL brass that there needs to be a profound change in the way the league responds to allegations of domestic violence.
At this point, even those inside commissioner Roger Goodell's bubble of trust have to be feeling the heat. And rightly so -- most of the universe thought the Rice suspension was a joke. So how could the NFL turn the tide of criticism?
The answer is simple: Put domestic violence in the collective bargaining agreement.
You're probably wondering if that's even possible. Yes, it is possible, according to multiple sources, including ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson. The CBA runs through 2021, but if both parties agree to alter the document, there's no reason the two parties couldn't make an amendment. In fact, MLB and its players' association both made a similar change recently involving increased PED testing.
Now for the harder questions.
So why would Goodell want to do something like that? First, he has to realize that right now public opinion of him can't sink any lower. The commissioner justified Rice's inadequate suspension by explaining that it's consistent with all the other lowball suspensions for intimate partner violence, adding insult to literal injury. His press conference in Canton also foreshadowed future disciplinary bungling in the name of consistency. He needs something that makes him look proactive about domestic violence, and he needs it now.
Even if that doesn't persuade Goodell, maybe this will: He might be able to leverage something the league badly wants -- testing for HGH -- by packaging that with domestic violence.
That of course raises the toughest question of all. Why on earth would the players want to talk about adding more suspensions? That's actually not as difficult to answer as you would think.
In an offseason featuring three high-profile domestic violence incidents (Rice, Greg Hardy and Daryl Washington), the players need some PR help, too. Pushing for tough penalties on domestic violence would go a long way toward showing it's an important issue to the NFLPA. Realistically, the increased penalties will only affect a few of the NFLPA's members each year, since the vast majority of players will never assault anyone.
But the real reason this is a legitimate scenario is Goodell himself. Nothing bothers NFL players and their representatives more than the idea that Goodell is a one-man punishment gang, with the commissioner having the final word on all suspensions. If Goodell were to propose a revised CBA that includes standardized penalties for domestic violence and positive HGH tests, he could offer in exchange to turn over final jurisdiction on all player penalties to an independent arbiter.
Given the current opinion of Goodell among players, removing him as the sole arbiter of league justice would be catnip to the players.
And, truth be told, does any reasonable person think Goodell has shown himself to be qualified to act as judge and jury? No arbiter would have decided Rice's fate based in any way on a face-to-face meeting with the player's wife, an obvious no-no in cases of domestic violence. Goodell and the NFL are probably expecting that the anger sparked by the Rice suspension will dissipate once the regular season begins, when fans become preoccupied by their fantasy teams. Maybe that's true, but maybe it's viewing football fans too cynically. I've heard from fathers who are appalled at the message the suspension sent to their sons, and even more so to their daughters. Every time Rice runs the ball, it will be a reminder.
Don't discount Congress, either. At the end of last week, three senators wrote a letter to Goodell expressing concern with the league's cavalier attitude on the subject of domestic violence. Congress is one of the few groups the NFL actually has to listen to, given that it has control over the league's anachronistic nonprofit status. The NFL may not yet think domestic violence is a cause worth openly discussing, but earlier this year political forces galvanized to require public universities to take sexual assault more seriously. It's another pressure point that Goodell has to be feeling right now.
At the end of the day, the NFL has lost the moral high ground. Cooperating with the players association to put domestic violence into the CBA is the least the NFL can do. It makes more sense than anything else related to the Ray Rice incident.