When rolling out the new domestic violence policy in late August, Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that, as to the Ray Rice investigation, the NFL didn’t get it right. But in preparing the new domestic violence policy, the NFL got it wrong, again.
The new domestic violence policy wasn’t a policy; it was a formula for penalties to be imposed on players who have committed domestic violence or sexual assault. For a first offense, the player will be suspended a baseline amount of six games, with the number possibly going up or down based on the surrounding circumstances. For a second offense, the player will be banished for life, with the opportunity to reapply after one year.
But the new domestic violence policy said nothing about how an offense would be defined. In the aftermath of the announcement of the new policy, ESPN reported that an offense would be determined once the legal process had ended. The league disputed that, telling PFT by email, “Each case will be addressed individually on its merits.”
In crafting the new formula for punishment in cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, the league apparently gave no consideration to the handling players in the murky waters between arrest and trial. The problem became evident days after the policy was unveiled, with 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald being arrested for domestic violence and the team jumping behind the shield of “due process.” Then came the Ray Rice video, and everything changed in an instant.
With McDonald and Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy and Jonathan Dwyer, the league has seemingly groped in the dark for a light switch, reaching and flailing and hoping for the best. The outcome has shown the league at anything but its best, woefully unprepared for the challenges of implementing its new domestic violence policy and totally oblivious to the notion that, in the wake of the Rice case, waiting until a player’s legal case has ended no longer will be good enough.
“When there is evidence of misconduct by anyone in the NFL, we need to carefully consider when to act and on what evidence,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said during his Friday press conference. “Everyone deserves a fair process. You know I feel passionately about working in the NFL in any capacity is a privilege.”
That’s a consideration that should have been considered long ago. Meanwhile, there’s still no clear set of rules for dealing with players accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, which invites more situations in which some players get to play and others don’t get to play — and fans are left to wonder whether the make-it-up-as-they-go approach is creating competitive advantages and disadvantages.