The NFL is once again battling an image problem and, as questions continue to mount about who knew what about the Ray Rice domestic violence video, and when they knew it. The furor is only likely to pick up momentum.
The disturbing video, which was released by TMZ on Monday, shows the now-former Baltimore Ravens running back punch his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City casino elevator on Feb. 15, knocking her unconscious, then dragging her limp body out of the elevator.
The latest revelation came Wednesday, when a law enforcement official told the Associated Press he sent the video to an NFL executive five months ago, making Commissioner Roger Goodell’s claims that no one in the league had seen it prior to its release this week somewhat suspect. Even more damning is the fact that the law enforcement official kept, and played, a voicemail from a woman calling from an NFL office number April 9 confirming that the video had been received, adding, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
Based on that evidence alone, it certainly sounds like at least one NFL employee saw the video — and I suspect that she didn’t act as a one-person coverup squad.
It’s even more difficult to find claims that the video wasn’t viewed credible since, according to Goodell, the league had asked to see the video but never had that request granted. So we’re expected to believe NFL execs were trying to track down the very same video that was conveniently mailed to their office months ago, yet that video somehow never made it to a single league official — despite acknowledgment it had indeed arrived at its destination, and that at least one person had seen enough of it to deem the actions shown as “terrible”?
Sorry, I’m not buying it. It’s not like the NFL took quick and decisive action in the first place. Rice was charged with felony aggravated assault March 27 — a day before he married Janay Palmer. He pleaded not guilty May 1 and applied for a pretrial intervention program, which, inexplicably, he was accepted into May 20 — thereby avoiding jail time. The charge may also be expunged from his record.
Rice also received a slap on the wrist from the NFL, in the form of a two-game suspension — and even that meager punishment wasn’t handed out until July.
Goodell later admitted he’d erred, and the league implemented a new domestic violence policy that called for a six-game suspension for a first offense, and at least a year for a second incident.
Now that the video has been made public, however, the NFL has changed its tune. The Ravens released Rice Monday, and the league suspended Rice indefinitely. And late Wednesday, the NFL announced former FBI Director Robert Mueller had been hired to lead an independent inquiry.
The National Organization for Women told CNN it was “just window dressing” and more needs to be done.
“NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community — not just regarding the Ray Rice incident — and to recommend real and lasting reforms,” said Terry O’Neill, president of NOW.
“The NFL does not just have a Ray Rice problem, they have a violence against women problem.”
O’Neill has a good point. Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy is playing while he appeals a conviction for assaulting and threatening an ex-girlfriend in May. Ray McDonald, defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, also continues to play despite his Labor Day arrest for allegedly assaulting his pregnant fiancee. And New York Jets rookie wide receiver Quincy Enunwa was recently arrested for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend at a hotel near the Jets’ practice facility.
Sixteen female senators — 14 Democrats and two Republicans — also lent their voices to the chorus Thursday, signing a letter calling on the NFL to adopt a zero-tolerance policy in regards to domestic violence.
I think a zero-tolerance policy is a good start, although I’d also argue that it should pertain to other violent crimes. My stomach still turns at the mere mention of Michael Vick, and the fact that he was allowed back into the NFL — and to have another dog in his home — is astonishing.
I know I’m not the only one still haunted by the photos in that case but, as with the Rice video, it seems a picture really is worth a thousand words. So, while watching Rice brutally punch Palmer was sickening, the fact that the video was made public has helped put a face on domestic violence, and made it far more difficult to dismiss the crime. It’s also started a very important national conversation that just may save lives.
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Amy Gehrt is the city editor of the Pekin (Illinois) Daily Times. She may be reached at agehrt@pekintimes.com, or on Twitter @AmyGehrt. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the Pekin Daily Times or this publication.