NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been in the news a lot lately because of his response to Ray Rice's public domestic violence case. The assault, perpetrated by Rice against his fiancee, Janay Palmer, was captured on hotel security cameras and brought to the public attention by the media. It rightly brought to the forefront the issue of women's rights and spousal abuse. A lot of the anger and outrage at this event has been focused on Ray Rice, I won't argue against that. However, others are pushing farther and attacking the NFL and the commissioner Roger Goodell. They are calling for Goodell's ouster and boycotts of the league. I think this anger is misguided. The blame for this crime should be placed squarely on Rice's shoulders. The outrage at the failure to properly punish the running back should be directed at the criminal justice system, not the NFL or commissioner Goodell.
The root of the NFL's current scandal is years in the making and started when the NFL made a conscious decision to become the morality police. In Roger Goodell's words they had to "protect the shield". Commissioner Goodell started suspending players for actions that he deemed as detrimental to the NFL brand. Drunk driving, smoking weed, end zone dances, and publicly speaking out against referee all became common reasons to get suspended. By reaching out from his area of expertise (i.e. regulating professional football games and seasons) and trying to act as an arbiter of justice Goodell set himself up for scrutiny and scandal.
When he decided to start punishing players for their off field acts he should have considered all the areas of potential problems. He should have worked with the NFL Players Association to document and define exactly what the punishments for different crimes are. These guidelines should have been strictly followed. Considering that NFL players commit domestic violence at a higher rate the general population he should have seen this coming. Because they decided adjudicate off field incidences outside of the legal system, the NFL should have had a clear policy to deal with domestic violence. They did not.
Until recently the NFL's policy on domestic abuse relied on the personal conduct policy. Each case was reviewed by the commissioner's office and punishment was decided on an individual basis. However, this offseason, the suspensions of Josh Gordon and Ray Rice highlighted the ridiculousness of this policy as Gordon received a season long ban for smoking weed while Rice received a two game suspension for beating is finance (now wife) unconscious, spitting on her and dragging her out of an elevator. The crimes and their respective punishments were clearly disproportionate. They needlessly set themselves up for this controversy. What Goodell and the NFL are guilty of is being completely arbitrary and random in how they dish out justice to different crimes and overreaching their authority to try and play the law.
The NFL shouldn't be the judge when it comes to criminal punishment. They shouldn't be making the calls between innocence and guilt. This should remain the domain of the police and court system. The NFL isn't suited to be a judge of moral character and they should not have to be. In the United States we have a legal system to do this. The legislative branch of government passes laws, executive branch enables them and the judicial branch enforces them. The NFL doesn't fall into any of those branches. By dishing out punishment to players for being a bad person isn't the NFL's job. It is the legal systems job.
In the case of Ray Rice it is not the NFL's that failed so terribly, it is the police and court systems in New Jersey that failed. Rice should have been charged with a crime. He should have faced trial. Assaulting his fiancée should be a serious matter. The Police should have investigated and pressed charges, even if Janay Palmer didn't want to. We need victim protection laws for this very reason. The real organization we should be mad at is the local law enforcement. The New Jersey criminal justice system failed the American people. We should be demanding that our court systems work for the betterment of society and the protection of the innocent.