Roger Goodell sent a letter to NFL front offices and a memorandum to all NFL personnel — coaches, players, executives, trainers, etc. — announcing an updated policy for domestic abuse and sexual assault, as well as, surprisingly, an apology for how he handled the Ray Rice situation:
My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.
There’s no doubt that the NFL mishandled Rice’s discipline, and finally having a definitive domestic abuse policy in 2014 is like admitting they’ve been using Windows 95 up until today. In fact, there are plenty of tweets out there deriding Goodell and the NFL for not having done this earlier — like, before Ray Rice knocked his future wife out. (There are also tweets praising Goodell’s humble change of heart and policy, for the record.)
One of the biggest gripes people have about Goodell is that he appears to make his decisions in a bubble, with no regard for the larger conversation. But Goodell isn’t deaf, and he isn’t blind: The public’s outcry made a serious impact on his decision to codify the process by which players will be judged when they are involved in these cases. While I’m not calling for a parade in the man’s honor, the fact is, nothing was on the books before, and now there is.
Goodell didn’t have to intertwine his apology and acknowledgment of his own role in this mess with his new policy. But it sets a great example for every other executive, coach and player in this league: Owning up to your mistakes is hugely important in helping to prevent those same mistakes in the future. It’s the first step on the road to forgiveness and truly the best way to demonstrate that you understand the magnitude of the situation.
And you know what? Six games for a first offense (with the ability to lengthen the suspension depending on certain factors) and a lifetime ban for the second offense is pretty good. It’s stronger than what’s on the books for substance abuse (four games first offense, one season for the second), and this previous imbalance is what sent people into a frenzy when Josh Gordon’s one-year ban for smoking weed was upheld while Rice was only given a two-game suspension. It’s too late to save Gordon, and too late to further punish Rice, but now both offenses are more in line with their true consequences.
Additionally, a major part of the letter deals with establishing training and educational programs, which should (hopefully) play a role in helping players, young and old alike, understand the consequences of their actions. The league won’t just be there to drop the hammer, but wants to be involved in preventing abuse before it happens.
It’s not uncommon for people in Goodell’s position — commissioners, executives, CEOs, bosses of all kinds — to dig in further and bury their heads deeper into the sand. But this is what real, honest people do: They learn from their mistakes, and they change their ways, and they encourage others to do the same. Kudos to the Commish on this one.
Photo via Getty