The NFL regular season is winding down with a second round of scrutiny and an ultimate resolution to the Ray Rice domestic violence case. The season began with a referendum on commissioner Roger Goodell’s reaction to the controversy. The recent developments in the case further elaborate the NFL’s mishandling of the situation.
Rice appealed the NFL’s decision to suspend him indefinitely, arguing that he had already received punishment for his actions with an initial two-game suspension. On the Friday after Thanksgiving, typically one of the quietest news days of the year, the news broke that Rice had won his appeal. The announcement was conveniently timed. It did not conflict with any NFL action and, therefore, the media did not have much of a platform to discuss the issue.
Rice’s suspension was immediately overturned at the time of the decision and he is now free to sign with any team in the league. This closes the book on the Rice incident, but leaves a legacy of mismanagement in its wake. The responsibility for this rests on Goodell’s shoulders.
When the now infamous video clip of the incident surfaced, Goodell publicly stated that it differed from the account given by Rice in their meeting. This lie served to cover up the league’s initial decision of a measly two-game suspension for Rice. U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones, who wrote the decision, ruled that Rice did not lie when he described the incident of abuse against his fiancée to Goodell.
Judge Jones agreed that the league did suspend Rice twice for the same offense. Obviously Rice is in no way a sympathetic figure in this situation, but the judge’s ruling was, in this case, correct. Goodell’s desire to skirt the issue with the initial and reactionary two-game suspension served to be the undoing of the entire situation. Had Goodell reacted firmly and with conviction in the first place with a harsher punishment, this appeal would never have materialized.
What will come of this decision is a return to the status quo. Despite losing a year’s salary and having his image tarnished, it is quite likely that a new team will sign Rice in time for next season. Goodell, who seems to be perpetually embattled with scandals, will face one more—likely mild—media cycle of criticism before the playoffs start and the focus on the NFL turns to the sport itself.
The NFL’s biggest misstep in this situation was that they only moved to make a strong statement and punish Rice indefinitely after the public backlash had become insurmountable and impossible to ignore. While the league’s harsh action against Rice was meant to serve as a deterrent against domestic violence, it will ultimately be just another case in which the individual takes the heat in order to distract from the larger issue at hand.
This appeal decision defines the totality of the NFL’s amorality and stubbornness. It is now clear to fans and media alike that the NFL is the last place we should look to for integrity.