A few weeks ago, we were all debating over whether a gay player in an NFL locker room would be a real “distraction” to a team. Last season, all we could do was talk about how the NFL needed to control bullying in locker rooms. What the NFL might need to focus on, however, is the amount of players who are arrested and/or charged with domestic violence, rape, or violence against women.
The NFL spends millions of dollars trying to grab the female fan. They’ve expanded their merchandising to include female NFL apparel that expands upon just pink or bejeweled jerseys. They have an entire month of the season dedicated to breast cancer awareness and feature breast cancer survivors on the field at games along with donating portions of proceeds from their pink-themed merchandise to breast cancer charities.
With all this, the NFL continues to take a passive stance against players who have been charged with crimes against women.
When a player fails a drug test, gets a DUI, or hits another player in their helmet during a game the penalties are swift. But when a player like Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is arrested for battery against his fiancée, the NFL is sitting and waiting for the “facts” to determine the possible punishment.
When TMZ releases a video showing an NFL player dragging an unconscious woman he just allegedly assaulted outside of an elevator, it’s going to get played in heavy rotation. It’s going to get the attention of media outlets that normally don’t have anything to do with the NFL. In that instance, it’s reaching the fans that Roger Goodell and the NFL still wants to grab. It puts debates about violence against women on platforms where potential NFL fans, potential NFL female fans, are watching and are forming their opinions on each side of the debate. Similar to how the bullying scandal from the Miami Dolphins locker room reached media outlets far and wide.
To those people, the NFL looks even worse because they saw the punishment hammer drop down swiftly and soundly on Richie Incognito, the ringleader of the bullying scandal, and they may not know that it was the Dolphins team who suspended Incognito, and not the NFL as a league.
Now they’re seeing that both the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens are sitting around waiting for more evidence to come out. Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome was asked about Rice’s arrest and basically said that he’s concerned about it, but not concerned enough to do anything at this point.
“In any of those situations, it’s very concerning. Up until we get all of the facts, we will let the process run its course.” – Ozzie Newsome
The Miami Dolphins suspended Richie Incognito almost immediately after the bullying scandal hit the news cycle but the NFL waited a few weeks and then launched an independent investigation of the locker room and still has yet to officially rule on anything.
Why is Ray Rice getting the benefit of the doubt when it comes to putting his hands on a woman, but Incognito got no benefit of an investigation when he was simply accused of being a bully at the time of his suspension?
On March 5, 2010 it was released that Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was being investigated on sexual assault charges in a small college town in Georgia. By April 12, the town held a press conference announcing that they wouldn’t be charging Roethlisberger with any crimes due to lack of evidence. On April 21, 2010, Roger Goodell announced that he was suspending Roethlisberger for the first 6 games of the 2010 season without pay under the league’s personal conduct policy.
Roethlisberger has remained the last player to face such a suspension from the league under their conduct policy in spite of over a dozen arrests for NFL players on charges ranging from battery to sexual assault since that date Roethlisberger was suspended.
The NFL had a chance to set a precedent with Roethlisberger by saying that even the suggestion or accusation of violence against women would not be tolerated by the NFL and it has failed miserably. Whether or not you agreed with the league being able to suspend a player who had not actually been charged with a crime, Roger Goodell fought hard to keep that power his when the new CBA was negotiated. But he’s never taken the opportunity to use that suspension ever again.
Why? Does the NFL not realize that they’re sending seriously mixed-messages to a fan base they are clearly determined to hook on their product?
Why would a casual female fan spend any hard-earned money on a league that describes a player’s past history of violent assaults of women as “off-the-field issues”? When Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was asked if he thinks Ray Rice might not be with the team this season he said he hadn’t “seen anything that would remotely make me think that”. Really? Nothing? Not even a grainy video of Rice dragging a woman?
The NFL has a chance again here with Ray Rice. They don’t need to wait for a trial date, they don’t need to wait for the “outcome”, they can set the bar again right here and right now and show the women they’re trying so hard to market to that they give a crap about their safety and welfare and they don’t put a players’ salary cap hit or running talents ahead of them.