As I write this, it is Sunday. There are 14 NFL games today, and that will be the focus of the day, and I’d argue that it should be the focus of today. The product on the field on Sundays, when the majority of the games are played, should be the focus. But tomorrow, the focus will change. And the focus should be different on Monday until Saturday. The NFL has a problem, and this time, we can’t let it go away.
Now, to get this out of way: the NFL does not have a problem with domestic violence. Statistically speaking, the numbers of NFL players who have recently been involved in legal proceedings regarding domestic violence is far below the North American average. But the volume of circumstances in the past 2 weeks have highlighted it in a way that we haven’t seen before. That does not make it right, and there is no excuse for anyone to commit domestic violence, but this issue has only served to highlight the wider problems facing the NFL.
Roger Goodell and the NFL believe they are invincible. And in many ways, they are. In a juggernaut that brings in over $9 Billion a year, it really is tough for them to fall. But that is why the NFL stands at a crossroads today. For too long, the NFL used its massive power to ignore these issues. Problem players have been ignored, because all too often they were not the stars of the league, and easily flushed out of the league to be replaced with new players. When star players had problems, they were brushed under a carpet never to be seen again. thanks to ESPN, we know that the Ravens and NFL tried to do that with Ray Rice. The NFL uses the power that it has to push problems away, and then use the fact that come Sunday, those problems will be forgotten. They can make that bet because most of the time, they are right.
That cannot happen this time. It isn’t just about players who commit domestic violence. A few years ago the NFL tried to clean itself up by introducing personal conduct policies aimed at players who do live troubled lives. The idea of that was great, but the execution was so poor that everything has come to a head over the last month. When you have a player who is suspended an entire year for smoking pot, and another who is suspended for 2 games for knocking out his fiancee in an elevator, there is a systematic problem.
While not attempting to justify this as good, Josh Gordon was suspended for a year for smoking pot, because it was his 3rd violation of the substance abuse policy, and under the rules at that time, that was what the punishment was. Now, while a good part of me believes that the player knew the rule, knew what his next violation would be, and deserves punishment just for being stupid. In a league where careers are short, any player who jeopardizes that, and potentially millions of dollars, deserves punishment if just for stupidity. However, we’re not talking cocaine or meth here, we’re talking pot. And the NFL has a further problem where pot is legal in 2 states where they have teams. The NFL needs to reflect this.
Now, Ray Rice was suspended for 2 games for his first violation of the personal conduct policy. Again, under the policy as it existed at the time, that was the correct punishment. It is widely reported that everyone from the Ravens to Roger Goodell knew what actually happened long before the video leak, but there was the cover up, which I will get to later, and the attempt to use the policy to get through this, and the hope that it would end there. As we know, it didn’t.
What this highlights is just how poorly the NFL’s policies were, and continue to be. I get the idea of standardized policies that treat each player and offense equally. It is easier to enforce, and much harder for the player and union to appeal if there are standards that are being followed. But the policy completely and horribly ignores the fact that a player hitting his fiance is worse than a player smoking pot. And the fact that the NFL let that happen is wrong.
What is even more wrong is the cover up. Multiple news agencies are now reporting the scale of the cover up, to the point where it is now believed that Roger Goodell himself knew about the Ray Rice video hours after the incident occurred. If all of this reporting is true, and it likely is, someone has to fall for it, and it needs to be Goodell. Roger Goodell has done many things for the NFL, increasing revenue, brand new TV contracts that are massive, implemented concussion protocols that, while it took too long to get there, are very good. But on so many fronts, Goodell has failed, and faltered, and failed again. The only acceptable endgame is for Roger Goodell to no longer be the commissioner of the NFL.
Now, on Sundays, we will watch the game on the field, and there are many good games on that field. We will watch fantastic quarterback play, even better catches, great defensive stands, and close games. We should watch that, and not think about the issues that the NFL have. The fact is that the NFL is so big, that on Sunday, the game on the field is the story, and it should be. But on Monday, the focus needs to change. That’s why while I write this on Sunday, it will be posted on Monday. Until the NFL makes any kind of meaningful changes, on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, that is what the focus needs to be. The pressure cannot stop. The NFL can dictate the story on Sunday. The other 6 days: that is for us.