As NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faced a torrent of criticism for his decision to suspend Ray Rice just two games for domestic violence, he released a statement acknowledging he got it wrong and promising stiffer suspensions in the future. Specifically, Goodell said players would get suspended at least six games in the future.
“Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense,” Goodell wrote at the time.
That policy has proved to be meaningless. Yesterday the NFL announced that Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended three games for touching an Uber driver “in an inappropriate and sexual manner without her consent.” So why didn’t Winston get six games?
Because the NFL frequently flouts its own policy.
Just three days after the NFL announced its policy, Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa was arrested and charged with simple assault when police said Enunwa pulled a woman off a bed, hurting her head and finger. After the NFL investigated, Enunwa was suspended four games.
Then-Giants kicker Josh Brown was arrested on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge. Brown was suspended one game. After a backlash against the NFL’s decision to suspend Brown one game and reports that he’d had a long pattern of terrorizing his ex-wife, he was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list. He hasn’t played since.
Then-Packers tight end Andrew Quarless was accused of firing a gun in the air during an argument with a woman. After the NFL investigated, Quarless was suspended two games.
Less than a month after the NFL announced its mandatory six-game suspension policy, then-Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested at the team facility for head-butting his wife and breaking her nose. He was suspended three games. (The incident took place before the NFL announced the mandatory six-game suspension policy, although the arrest and the suspension both happened while the policy was in place.)
In 2015, then-Cowboys running back Joseph Randle had the police called on him for domestic violence with a weapon after an incident with the mother of his son. Randle was suspended four games.
The NFL will no doubt say that some of those cases had mitigating circumstances, and that’s why those players got less than six games. The NFL is less than transparent about explaining its suspensions, so we don’t know what those mitigating circumstances are. But regardless, the reality is that when Goodell claimed there would be a six-game suspension for a first offense, he wanted the public to believe that the NFL now had a strong standard for crimes against women. As it has turned out, there is no such standard other than the NFL’s continuing decision to make up suspensions as it goes along.