Of the festivities leading up to the Pro Football Hall of Fame Weekend in Canton, Ohio, one of the things NFL commissioner Roger Goodell likely wasn't looking forward to was addressing the media on Ray Rice's two-game suspension.
After NFL vice president of labor policy Adolpho Birch made a fool of himself and the league on ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike program, it would be on Goodell to establish why the NFL suspended Rice for two games, which caused a lot of outrage from the national NFL audience.
Instead of the focus of Goodell's press conference being on the Hall of Fame induction ceremony and Hall of Fame Game, most of the media availability was devoted to the Rice suspension. Airing on ESPN, Goodell affirmed that the two-game, three game check penalty was appropriate.
On how the NFL reached its conclusion:
"Our policy is clear. We have a very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL and that there will be consequences for that. Obviously, when we're going through the process of evaluating the issue and whether there would be discipline, you look at all of the facts you have available to us. Law enforcement, on a normal basis, has more information and facts than we have. We'll get as much as we possibly can. Then you also have the opportunity to sit down with the individual, and maybe others, to determine how that individual is reacting to it. I think what's important here is Ray is taking responsibility. He's been accountable for his actions. He recognizes he made a horrible mistake and it's unacceptable, by his standards and our standards. And he's got to work to reestablish himself. And the criminal justice system, as you know, put him in a diversionary program with no discipline. We felt it was appropriate to have discipline and to continue the counseling programs and to continue our educational work. I was also very impressed with Ray in the sense that Ray is not only accepting this issue but he's saying, 'I was wrong,' and he's saying, 'I want to make a powerful difference in this area.'"
Goodell was then asked about the overwhelmingly negative reaction to the punishment:
"When we make decisions we always get reaction. We understand that and we listen to it and we use it to make ourselves better. We'll comfortable with that and understand it."
Goodell on being consistent with previous cases involving first-time offenders in domestic violence cases:
"It is, and we have to remain consistent. We can't just make up the discipline. It has to be consistent with other cases and it was."
Goodell was asked about the notion of suspending a player involved in domestic violence for two games vs. suspending a player four games for smoking marijuana. This is the only time where it seemed Goodell was a little agitated, and for a valid reason:
"You have to deal with some facts. When we have a drug program that is collectively bargained and it has a step process, it takes four incidents before you actually reach a suspension in a drug-related case. You have to respond to facts here. A lot of people are voicing their opinion but it's important to understand that this is a young man that made a terrible mistake that is inconsistent with what we're all about. We dealt with it in a serious manner and we're very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward."
Goodell on if being a first-time offender helped Rice not face a harsher punishment:
"Because Ray Rice did not have another incident. There were several cases as you know, serious cases and other cases, and we take them into account. If it's a first offense and someone had a strong background with being very responsible in the community and doing the right things and not violating policies, or anything else that would reflect poorly on the NFL, we take that into account. If it's a pattern, we also take that into account."
Goodell was asked whether Rice's wife, Janay Rice, swayed his opinion on giving a two-game suspension:
"No, I take into account all of the information before I make a decision on what the discipline would be. In this case, there was no discipline by the criminal justice system, he was put into a diversionary program. I'd seen Ray after that and had the opportunity to hear from him, hear from his wife and hear from other people who were into the hearing process."
Goodell was asked whether there is any information or facts that the public hasn't seen that led to his decision:
"I think I have the opportunity as the commissioner to be able to hear directly from him and that's helpful to me and important for me to do that. What I want to see is success stories. I want to see people, when they make a mistake, I want to see them take responsibility and be accountable for it and make a difference going forward. I hope that's what Ray Rice is going to do."
Goodell brought up some very valid points, whether you like the commissioner or don't. The notion of marijuana users vs. Rice's case is, in fact, unfounded, given one issue has been collectively bargained and the other hasn't. While on surface value alone it would make sense to punish someone involved with domestic violence more, the NFL and NFLPA have come to an agreement on how to handle drug-related issues. Specifically speaking on domestic violence, there isn't a set-in-stone agreement as to how to handle those cases.
The next step is for the NFL and NFLPA to work on a solution for this matter when it's time for another CBA, which won't be until 2020. Then decisions wouldn't necessarily seem so arbitrary if there's a process involved. Of course, the league and the NFLPA may not want to discuss that because, in a perfect world, no athlete is striking a woman, regardless of the circumstance. But as The FiveThirtyEight pointed out, the relative arrest rate for domestic violence cases among NFL players is at 55.4 percent, which does indicate a problem.
Goodell said the league takes domestic violence issues seriously. And it may actually be a while before the NFL can get some sort of foundation on this due to the years remaining on the current CBA.
But after taking a beating for not doling out an appropriate punishment, regardless of facts, precedents or the CBA itself, it's time for both the league and players union to get on the same page with this issue and ensure that this kind of circus doesn't happen again.