“Where is Richard Nixon, now that we need him? He was crooked in every way and his hands were covered with blood — but he was a rabid, high-rolling football fan with a sly taste for gin; and on some nights, he could be good company.”
– Hunter S. Thompson
It’s hard not to think of Richard Nixon and his fondness for football now that the NFL is in the middle of a very serious scandal involving the punishment of a player who got caught on videotape violently striking his girlfriend and dragging her unconscious out of an elevator.
After all, people are asking “What did he know and when did he know it?” of the league’s commissioner, Roger Goodell. And the NFL seems to have it’s own Rosemary Woods in a woman from the front office who left a voicemail for a law enforcement official acknowledging the receipt of a particularly damaging piece of videotape in the case—a piece of videotape which, in a highly-publicized interview with CBS’ Nora O’Donnell this week, Goodell said he had no knowledge of and no one in his office had seen.
From a public relations perspective, Goodell’s behavior in this matter has been a disaster from the get-go. On February 15th of this year, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his then-fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer in the elevator of a casino in Atlantic City. Both were arrested that night on simple assault charges. A few days later, videotape appeared of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator and leaving her on the ground.
That footage alone should have warranted significant action by the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens. Instead, the Ravens waited for the NFL to act and Goodell stepped in it by dishing out mere 2 game suspension for Rice, despite a police report that made clear he hit Palmer in the elevator and at least two reports by respected NFL reporters which said that NFL sources told them they had seen the videotape of what happened inside the elevator and it “was not pretty”, with Rice striking Palmer who then fell and hit her head on a railing.
Goodell was roundly criticized for dishing out such a weak penalty. But there were no calls for his resignation, no demands for him to do more.
Which is why it’s strange that on August 28th, Goodell came out and basically admitted he “didn’t get it right” with the Rice punishment and announced a revamped domestic violence policy for the NFL, imposing a 6 game suspension for a first-time offense and a lifetime ban for a second offense. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I have a funny feeling Goodell knew something bad was coming down the pike and he knew he had to get it front of it and this was his effort to do that.
That “something bad” hit Monday, when TMZ released the videotape from the inside of the elevator that February night, showing Rice brutally knocking his fiancée out cold.
Goodell rushed out to give an interview with CBS’ Nora O’Donnell in which he denied knowledge of the tape’s existence and said no one in the NFL front office had seen it. In so doing, he basically blamed law enforcement in New Jersey for refusing multiple requests from the NFL to get a copy of the tape.
It didn’t take very long for an unnamed law enforcement source to blow that story straight to hell by going to the Associated Press and reveal the NFL was given a copy of the tape. The law enforcement official even had the recording of a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number where a female voice expresses thanks for video being sent in and says, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
Goodell’s credibility is in tatters. Even before the AP story hit, no one believed he didn’t know about the second videotape because the NFL has a well-deserved reputation for having a very effective security apparatus, composed of former law enforcement officials with strong contacts in that community. Even if NFL officials hadn’t been given a chance to see the video, it strains the limits of credulity to think there were no back-channel communications going on, no “wink, wink, nudge, nudge” conversations taking place where law enforcement officials were quietly making friends and or former colleagues in the NFL front office aware of what happened in that elevator.
It doesn’t help that Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is slated to play again this weekend, as he did last weekend, after being convicted of domestic violence last July. Since he’s appealing the case, it’s as if nothing happened. It’s as if he didn’t threaten to kill his ex-girlfriend. Or pick her up and throw her into a tub. Or drag her out and then throw her onto a couch filled with his stash of rifles and guns.
And then there’s Adrian Peterson.
The National Organization for Women has already called for Goodell to be fired. And he should be. But it shouldn’t stop there. The male-dominated power structure of the NFL has responded to the issue of domestic violence abominably. In the Ray Rice case, the legal system didn’t do much better. Law enforcement had both tapes—Rice dragging his fiancée out of the elevator and knocking her cold in it. First offense or not, the actions on both of those tapes deserved more than a pretrial intervention program, a program whose own website claims is meant to be used in cases that are either “victimless crimes” or don’t involve violence.
A spokesman for the Atlantic County prosecutor’s office in New Jersey had this to say when asked about the disposition of Rice’s case:
“Mr. Rice received the same treatment by the criminal justice system in Atlantic City that any first-time offender has, in similar circumstances.”
If that’s true, we have a problem that clearly goes well beyond the NFL. Here’s hoping the spotlight shown on the issue of domestic violence by this case will lead to changes that don’t stop with Goodell losing his job. Because those of us who read the horrible stories about how the Massachusetts legal system failed Jennifer Martel by putting a serial abuser like Jared Remy back on the street again and again after numerous episodes of brutality know that there aren’t many happy endings when it comes to domestic violence.