After the Ray Rice video rocked the NFL to its foundation and nearly toppled a Commissioner, the NFL reacted to immense public pressure by making big changes. And now that the PSI has reduced (yeah, I went there), the NFL has retreated to it pre-Ray Rice reality.
That’s exactly what happened in the Josh Brown case. Arrested in May 2015 for a domestic violence incident that the NFL saw fit to discipline with a one-game suspension, the NFL still has provided no explanation as to why the league deviated from the six-game baseline that was adopted in an effort to put out the post-Ray Rice firestorm.
Mitigating factors are required to reduce the six-game suspension. So what were they?
The NFL has made no effort to identify the mitigating factors or to even say that there were any. The only real explanation provided in support of the action taken came from the inability of the NFL’s investigators to fully investigate the case, blaming their failure to get to the truth (under the low standard of “more probable than not”) by pointing out that Brown’s former wife refused to cooperate and that law enforcement officials likewise wouldn’t talk, outcomes that scream out “red flag” more than they say “dead end.”
Good investigators figure out ways to get people to tell the truth. Good investigators don’t shrug and say “oh well” and create a blueprint for all other players who are accused of domestic violence: If you can convince the witnesses not to talk, the league will have no choice but to go easy on you.
The bigger problem in this case is that the Giants also went easy on Brown. Although it wouldn’t be right for the team to look the other way if a key player on offense or defense were involved in a similar situation, at least it would make sense. Why are the Giants opening themselves up to criticism and scrutiny for a kicker? As one G.M. told me earlier this year, there are three great kickers, three bad kickers, and the other 26 are all the same. Brown is one of the other 26, and the Giants easily could have found another one of those 26.
“These are not easy decisions,” Giants co-owner John Mara said Wednesday, finally breaking the organization’s silence on the subject. “Very easy to say, ‘Guy’s been accused, get rid of him. Terminate him.’ But when you’re sitting at the top of an organization and you’re responsible for a lot of people, you’d better make more informed decisions than that.”
That’s fine, but in this case the Giants didn’t have to fire Brown. His contract had expired, they knew about the allegations, and instead of finding another kicker they hired Brown again.
Some may say that the Giants were being merciful or giving the player a second chance or whatever, but it’s impossible to reconcile the Giants’ actions with these words from Mara, uttered at a time when the league was under heavy siege: “Everyone in our league, players, coaches, front-office people, need to understand there is no excuse for domestic violence ever and there is going to be severe consequences.”
The fact that the NFL imposed a one-game suspension on Brown shows that some degree of domestic violence occurred. His ex-wife claimed, before clamming up, that there had been up to 20 prior incidents of violence.
“There is no excuse for domestic violence,” Mara said in 2014. In 2016, Mara sounds like a guy making multiple excuses for Brown.
“There’s a big difference between allegations and convictions or indictments,” Mara said Wednesday. “And a lot of times there’s a tendency to try to make these cases black and white. They’re very rarely black and white. You very rarely have a Ray Rice video.”
Those are all excuses for Brown’s domestic violence, for which the consequences were minimal — and which the Giants decided to ignore when re-hiring a player with whom the organization technically had no employment relationship.
The inescapable message is this: With the Ray Rice incident nearly two years old, the NFL and its teams have assumed the pre-Ray Rice posture. Unless, of course, there’s any chance a video exists that TMZ may eventually buy.