Admitting a mistake isn’t easy for political and business leaders, who would rather resort to the oft-used “mistakes were made.” That makes the recent flat-out admission by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell that “I didn’t get it right” little short of remarkable.
Goodell admitted that he bungled the league’s response to a player accused of domestic violence and said, “Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Controversy erupted after Goodell suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for a mere two games after Rice was seen on surveillance video dragging his unconscious girlfriend off an elevator.
The light punishment was an insult and generated outrage from women’s groups, organizations supporting victims of domestic violence and even some players who were perplexed at the leniency shown compared to other offenses.
For example, the NFL suspended Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon for the entire 16-game season for multiple violations of the NFL substance abuse policy. By that reckoning, a player smoking marijuana is committing a far worse crime than one who assaults his girlfriend.
The uproar over the Rice suspension got Goodell’s attention, and he made important changes when it comes to off-the-field violence. In the future any NFL employee, not just the players, who is found to have engaged in “assault, battery, domestic violence and sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to enhanced discipline.” First offenders will be suspended without pay for six games; repeat offenders will be suspended for at least a year.
Goodell is receiving a mostly positive response for his straightforward admission and determination to do better, although the NFL Players Association reserves the right to act in cases where “due process rights are infringed upon.” The players should be very careful about seeming to brush off domestic violence.
The test of the NFL’s new policy on domestic violence is not long in coming. San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald is free on $25,000 bail after his arrest on domestic violence charges last weekend. Goodell has not yet said what punishment, if any, McDonald faces.
The commissioner made a mistake in the Rice case, and was man enough to admit it. Tough penalties for subsequent off-the-field violence will be proof of his new commitment.