NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has to go

Yesterday, the AP reported that contrary to claims from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, law enforcement did in fact share with NFL officials video footage of (now former) Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice brutally knocking unconscious, then dragging, his then-fiancée and now-wife, Janay, from an Atlantic City elevator on April 9th.

The video is graphic, but necessary, to fully appreciate how horrific this story truly is.


Prior to Monday, when TMZ published video of the violence, Rice’s actions had only led him to be suspended for two games, causing a public backlash that led the league to make its domestic violence policies stricter.

Of course, prior to Monday, the only available video of the incident was shot outside of the elevator, showing what happened after Janay was already unconscious. In the original video, you see Rice dragging his fiancée from the elevator.

Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Almost immediately after the second video from inside the elevator emerged, the league suspended, Rice and the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract.


ray-rice-2The latest news, that the NFL had the more-damning elevator footage months ago, and either ignored it or did not consider it serious enough to merit a harsher suspension, raises serious questions.

The first piece of evidence against Ray Rice – video showing him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator like a sack of potatoes – coupled with his admission that he struck her, told us everything that happened in that elevator. The league shouldn’t have needed video footage of the actual punch to know that it happened, that it was awful, and that a two-game suspension (which is all Rice originally got for beating his fiancée unconscious) wasn’t even close to enough.

Instead, as satirized by The Onion, on Monday the NFL announced a “New Zero-Tolerance Policy on Videotaped Domestic Violence.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Tuesday that the league has adopted a new zero-tolerance policy toward all videotaped domestic abuse. “We hold our players to the highest standards both as professional athletes and as people, so any violence toward women that is recorded, authenticated, and then publicly distributed will be met with an automatic suspension and fine,” said Goodell…

Goodell went on to clarify that in such cases, the NFL will cooperate fully with local authorities as soon as the league can no longer prevent incriminating evidence from being leaked to the media.

But that didn’t stop NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from claiming yesterday: “We (the NFL) assumed that there was a video. We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity.”

Except they were granted that opportunity. Months ago. This statement alone, setting aside everything else Goodell has done to mishandle this situation, should be enough to get him fired.

First off, Goodell’s statement is opaque at best and outright false at worst. While the league may have asked local law enforcement for the video, the casino where the incident took place said that they were never contacted by the league for the video, and that they would have gladly handed provided it if asked. This is significant because, in the context of a criminal investigation, the police aren’t allowed to hand out evidence, and the NFL knows this perfectly well. In choosing to ask the police and not the casino for additional evidence — when the league already assumed the casino had video evidence — the NFL, and by extension Goodell, were being willfully ignorant.

Every action the NFL has taken with respect to this issue has, unsurprisingly, suggested that they are acting out of a purely image-based interest, which highlights what is perhaps Goodell’s biggest mistake: If you assume that a video exists, how can you do anything other than act based on what’s definitely on that video, and suspend Rice indefinitely from the get-go? And despite all of Goodell’s claims to have been strictly adhering to league policy regarding Rice’s suspension in this case, this is a commissioner who’s made a habit of insisting that he can exercise discretion – in either direction – concerning player discipline.

From a strictly business perspective, knowing only what we all knew last week, before the even-more incriminating video went public, Goodell could have, and should have, suspended Rice indefinitely. He didn’t. This will cost the NFL a lot of money, as well it should.

Ray Rice’s fate has been sealed for months. The moment he hit his fiancée, his NFL season, and possibly career, was over. While seeing the video of the actual punch is horrid, it shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion as to what happened and what should have been done about it; the facts of the case remain exactly the same. We shouldn’t have to see video of a woman being knocked out in order to exact punishment from someone who has already admitted to the crime.

Yet, as the Onion noted, the only reason the Ravens fired, and the NFL suspended, Ray Rice is because the second video leaked, thus leaving them no choice.

The person we really should be thinking less of as a result of all of this – the person who really deserves to pay for doing the least that was asked of him, hoping the issue would go away so that Ray Rice could keep scoring touchdowns and making money – is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

At the time of this writing, 62 percent of 392,000 respondents to an ESPN SportsNation poll asking whether or not Roger Goodell should resign or be fired had answered in the affirmative.

Count me as one of them.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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