Oh, yes, let’s torch and pitchfork the NFL for its handling of the Ray Rice case and not rest until NFL Commission Roger Goodell pays for his incompetence or his bad judgment — whichever proves greater — with his resignation. Then, after a good night’s sleep, let’s ask ourselves why, after cementing his reputation across the league as a hanging judge, did Goodell pick the Rice case to appear insufficiently authoritarian?
Rice, who dealt his then-fiancée Janay Palmer a knockout punch in an Atlantic City casino elevator last February and dragged her out and dumped her like a tackling dummy, may be one of the least sympathetic players ever to appear for judgment in the court of Goodell. Rice hadn’t gotten caught violating the league’s drug policy, as did Cleveland Browns star receiver Josh Gordon, and for which he earned a one-year suspension this summer. Goodell banned Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from four games of the 2010 season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Roethlisberger’s offense? A college student accused him of assaulting her in a nightclub. The quarterback was not convicted of anything. He wasn’t even charged. But Goodell punished him.
In June 2007, Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson earned an eight-game suspension from Goodell for being arrested on gun-related charges. In 2008, New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress was suspended for four games after accidentally shooting himself. In 2009, quarterback Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely (and later reinstated) for dogfighting. In 2012, following accusations that the New Orleans Saints had paid “bounties” to players for delivering injury-inflicting hits on opponents, Goodell suspended three of its coaches, several players, yanked draft selections from the team, and fined it as well. The player suspensions were vacated, but Goodell’s reputation as a hard-ass was only enhanced.
Then comes Ray Rice into his chamber, and Goodell goes all soft? It doesn’t make sense. A piece of muscle like Rice landed on Janay Palmer (to whom he is now married) could have been more permanently injurious than any of the Saints’ “bounty” hits. Beside, as a non-player, Palmer hadn’t given consent to being hit in the first place!
Even though Goodell knew that Rice knocked Palmer out, even though he knew Rice was indicted by a grand jury for third-degree aggravated assault, he gave the running back a mere two-game suspension? Don Van Natta Jr.’s 2013 profile of Goodell, “His Game, His Rules,” provides a slew of clues. From the time Goodell rose to NFL commissioner in 2007, he has fashioned himself “a no-nonsense disciplinarian, toughening the personal-conduct rules in 2007 to enforce harsh punishment for off-the-field misbehavior by any player, coach or executive.”