Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Crime and Punishment or Lack Thereof

The world of sports has been enduring a rather bumpy ride of late, and no one is dealing (quite poorly) with more turbulence than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.  If his league received any positive publicity regarding gay rights when all eyes were on Michael Sam during the draft, it has quickly been squandered one controversy after another.  As appetizer, the Washington Redskins are under more heat than ever before to change their racist name.  Had the league pressured the team to comply, Goodell could have placed it on the right side of history.  Instead the issue remains a case of team owner Dan Snyder refusing to cater to people’s racial sensitivities while the league looks away.

Squabbling over a team name is nothing compared to what took place next.  Ray Rice was somewhat improbably forgiven by his girlfriend for punching her into a state of unconsciousness.  Now Janay is Mrs. Ray Rice and the two of them are a united front against those declaring that something needs to be done to discourage domestic violence.  Roger Goodell was in as nearly a forgiving mood as Janay, suspending Ray for a mere two games.  That was before TMZ showed us the rest of the tape, the portion showing not just Ray dragging Janay’s body out of the elevator in nonchalant fashion, but the punch that preceded it.  Goodell tried some too little too late maneuvering by declaring that future domestic violence offenses will result in no less than a 6-game suspension.  Eventually he did a 360 and suspended Ray Rice indefinitely.  He thought we would accept his claim that he had never seen the entire video tape prior to TMZ’s public release of it, so that’s why his initial punishment was so lenient.  Nobody bought it.

We weren’t over being angry at Roger for completely mishandling Ray Rice’s transgressions when Adrian Peterson went and got himself indicted for abusing one of his kids.  Did AP possibly think it was an acceptable form of discipline to whip a 4 year old with a switch so severely that it left the back of child's legs looking like he was on the set of 12 Years a Slave?  Oh yes he did.  Reggie Bush chiming in that if necessary he’ll harshly discipline his own 1 year old daughter because tough love is what it’s all about certainly didn’t help matters.  In their infinite wisdom the Minnesota Vikings decided that since Peterson hasn’t been convicted of a crime yet, he could continue playing and not miss so much as a single game.  After public outcry and major corporate sponsors threatening to jump ship, they thought better of it.  Goodell has barely made a peep about Adrian Peterson, still licking his wounds while an investigation is underway regarding his bungling of Ray Rice.  Add names such as Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald and Jonathan Dwyer to the pile of problems that Goodell should be taking care of rather than hiding under his desk.  Agreement on a new drug policy is certainly not the cure to what ails him.  It’s barely window dressing on a gaping wound.

Ray Rice is appealing his suspension. Punishing him sufficiently in the first place would have made life much easier for Roger Goodell. 6 to 8 games probably would have been satisfactory to many who rightfully felt 2 games was ridiculous.  It remains to be seen how lawyers will advise Adrian Peterson to counter.  Since he hasn’t plead guilty or been convicted of a crime, he may have a strong case down the line.  Roger Goodell just wants it to all go away.  But the only way for that to happen may be for him to go away, leaving the NFL commissioner job in somebody else’s hands.

If Goodell is replaced, the new guy/gal may want to study the playbook of NBA commissioner Adam Silver.  Hit with drama almost immediately after taking over for David Stern, Silver has fared well as the new sheriff in town.  I was surprised by how harshly he dealt with Donald Sterling and thought it might blow up in his face, but Silver stood his ground and Sterling tearfully slunk away looking like a crazy old bigot best quickly forgotten.  Perhaps Silver has simply been lucky so far.  Or it could be he’s the smarter commissioner who knows the best way to deal with a troublesome situation is to confront and strongly impose your moral code upon it.    

There were plenty who disagreed with how Goodell handled the Saints in their Bounty-gate scandal, felt his reaction was too severe, but at least Roger came off as a man of conviction with intolerance of violence not so long ago.  Once upon a time Roger Goodell was the tough love guy in charge.  Now he looks like a guy who is in way over his head.  

But when it comes to being lenient on cash cow athletes, he is certainly not alone.

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