Goodell Handled Rice Using His Long-Standing Primary Goal: Just Keep the Lid on It

1. The NFL Sports Hero Get-Out-of-Jail-Free Card: Sports heroes like Rice have been getting preferential treatment all their lives, which often includes avoiding criminal prosecution in the same way that Rice did. Rice got a pre-trial “intervention” assignment which allowed him to avoid any prosecution at all, as long as he performed the counselling and other terms imposed. As Don Van Natta written, Rice’s opportunity to enter that program was one given by New Jersey to very few people involved in alleged criminal activity.

2. The Public Never Sees Most of those “Jail-Free” Cards When They are Played: Goodell’s actions need to be seen in that context. The public mistakenly believes that the Rice, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald domestic violence cases are the only other ones which have recently occurred. It is much more likely that those highly publicized cases are a tip of an iceberg of many more such altercations involving NFL players, since many of the altercations get “buried,” without charge because of immediate intervention by lawyers or the NFL. Alternatively, many such charges might, like Rice’s, surface briefly, only to be relatively quickly and cleanly “negotiated away” by high-priced lawyers hired by the wealthy NFL player, with the assistance of the NFL.

3. The NFL Works Hard to Help “Bury” Any Player Criminal-charge Issues: Much has been made of the NFL’s alleged strong, if not intimate connections, with all levels of law enforcement in all regions. But most of the recent “Rice-gate” discussion about these “insider” NFL connections to law enforcement has overlooked a major reason why the NFL cultivates those connections. It’s not just, for example, to give the NFL access to the Rice video, to help the teams and Goodell then make better “disciplinary” decisions. It’s also to give the NFL brass immediate and inside information any time any “problem” — whatsoever — arises concerning any NFL player, so that the NFL and the local team can intervene with law enforcement to help bury the “problem” before it goes public.

4. Burying those Potential Player Criminal “Problems” is a Significant Part of the NFL’s Function: No one appears to have inquired, but there is a significant possibility that the NFL may have had a role in pressuring the Atlantic County DA to “bury” the Rice charges. A significant part of the NFL office’s function is to work to  “keep the lid on” any of these PR-nightmare issues. Goodell, by this analysis, was only doing in the Rice matter what he has done many other times — outside of our view — to minimize the public’s ability to know about any of a potential criminal “transgressions,” but also to help shape an outcome, as in the Rice case, which insures that it avoids criminal prosecution and convictions.

Roger Goodell has seen many more of these domestic violence disturbances come across his desk. They all appear, in varying proportion, to involve nasty behavior, which the league has strong motivation to cover-up.  Goodell sees these issue all the time, and what we saw in the Rice case was Goodell’s habitual handling of one of these many “problems” which pop up.

5. Goodell Handled Rice Using His Habitual #1 Goal: Keep the Lid on It: Goodell’s lightweight original two-game suspension of Rice was entirely consistent with the above pattern of behavior by the NFL: “keep the lid on it.” Goodell knew, as we all did, that Rice’s behavior was brutish and appalling. His job was to try to put together a tidy little package to minimize damage to all, but most of all, to minimize damage to the league’s reputation and goodwill. He clearly knew all about the “second” video, and most likely viewed it — and efforts to “keep the lid” on the case had a primary goal of insuring not only that the case would thus “go away,” but also that the public would never see that second video.  That was a gamble, and he lost the gamble.

6. If You Don’t Like This Brutish Behavior by NFL Players, Don’t Buy a Ticket or Watch: The game is built on violence; a large percentage of players who succeed in this violent game are ones who have been raised on the “language” and reality of violence. If you don’t like it, don’t go to, or watch the games. (Major League Soccer, in 19 years of existence, has never had one player charged with domestic violence.)

7. Don’t Fool Yourself: The 32 NFL teams are for-profit, private businesses, owned by private owners, who want the public to buy into the notion that “we all own the team” — which is why they work so hard to burnish the appearance of players, and to bury the “problems” which come with criminal behavior or charges. The public fools itself, by acting as if they have some ownership interest in the NFL teams, when they have none. Why should anyone care if a player has a pending criminal charge? — it doesn’t affect how, for example, Adrian Peterson does his job as a running back. By buying into this entire NFL “disciplinary” framework led by Goodell, the public denies the reality that it is all for-profit businesses which like to make the public think that there is some public ownership.

At least with respect to criminal charges (as opposed to convictions), I don’t believe a player like Adrian Peterson should be suspended — particularly if a person as wooden-headed as Goodell is the one who is supposed to decide.  If a fan objects to watching the performance on the field of a player who has merely been charged with criminal conduct, then he should take his fussy standards and buy a MLS ticket instead. Or press to make sure that movement toward public ownership of NFL teams, similar to the public ownership of the Green Bay Packers, is the norm.

About brewonsouthu

lawyer, with interest in college sports and NCAA oversight and decisions, and sports generally.
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