Opinion: Cracking down on NFL problems

Richie Mulhall is a junior multimedia news major and the sports editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at rmulhal1@kent.edu. 

Richie Mulhall is a junior multimedia news major and the sports editor of The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected] 

Richie Mulhall

What do you think is worse: assaulting and beating your wife or smoking weed? According to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL, the latter is a more punishable offense.

Last Wednesday the NFL correctly upheld Cleveland Browns wide reciever Josh Gordon’s one-year suspension after violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. The NFL announced that arbitrator in the case, Harold Henderson, upheld the suspension for a failed marijuana test. The 2013 Pro Bowler appealed the verdict in New York on August 4, according to ESPN.com. Despite the NFL taking its good old time ruling on the appeal, the suspension endured the appeal process and Gordon will not be seen on an NFL football field again until the 2015 season.

Even though this is the second time in less than a year Gordon has violated the NFL’s drug policy, other recent incidents involving NFL players seem to have slipped through yet another flawed, faulty NFL policy system set in place by Goodell. 

I’m sure some non-sports people reading this might say that they’re little lost by this point, but try to go through this logically, regardless of whether or not you’re sports savvy.

How could a man caught on video surveillance camera assaulting his wife and dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator merit a two-game suspension, while a man testing positive for a widely used substance that’s legal in two states and decriminalized elsewhere warrants a full-season suspension?

Not to sound like a biased, disgruntled Browns fan holding a lifelong disdain for and grudge against the Baltimore Ravens for obvious reasons (that’s a different column for another day), but the logic just doesn’t add up, and the NFL’s punishment priorities don’t sit well with me.

Now I understand that Ray Rice’s situation, the first scenario mentioned above, has no effect on Gordon’s punishment — the two incidents are completely separate cases governed and regulated by two entirely different policies. The first falls under the NFL’s personal conduct policy and the latter is controlled by negotiated discipline policies agreed upon by the NFL Players Association as part of its Collective Bargaining Agreement, which was last revised in 2011.

Gordon was suspended for two games at the beginning of the 2013 season for failing the league’s drug test due to marijuana use. He served the suspension, paid his dues and returned to action.

All Gordon had to do in order to not miss a down this season was pass every drug test he had to take in the offseason before the 2014 season kicked off. And what did Gordon do? He failed one of his tests and the penalty for his second-time offense is a yearlong suspension.

It could be argued by anyone that the current Collective Bargaining Agreement’s policy on discipline needs revised, there’s no question about that. Any system that prohibits suspensions for a DUI arrest but suspends players for smoking weed is clearly flawed, but that’s not the point. Rules are rules, and Gordon did not follow them. He’s no victim here. He did not abide by the rules and was punished for it. Plain and simple.

What’s not plain and simple, though, is the gray area that was the NFL’s previous domestic violence policy. In July when Goodell originally announced that Rice would only be suspended for two games, his decision immediately came under fire as fans and groups who work with victims of domestic violence were up in arms, outraged by Goodell’s nonchalant approach to the situation.

The number of games was dramatically less than some suspensions given for what some would consider more minor infractions, such as steroid use, DUI offenses and substance abuse cases like the one the Browns are dealing with right now.

Unfortunately for Browns fans and domestic violence activists alike, domestic violence infractions fall in the ambiguous realm of personal conduct policy, which means that Goodell was the only man who could make the call, and as many of his critics would tell you, his word is always final and absolute.

Upon facing harsh criticism from critics within the league and outside of it, Goodell, the sole authority figure able to determine the severity of any punishment under the old policy, finally realized he dropped the ball with Rice’s case and decided to take action against domestic violence with new penalties against offenders.

On Wednesday the NFL implemented a sweeping domestic violence initiative under its personal conduct policy that institutes a six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence offenders and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense, according to ESPN.com.

A six-game suspension would be without pay, and the length of the penalty could vary and potentially increase in special cases. A second-time offender who would receive a lifetime ban from the NFL could petition for reinstatement just as they could with many other cases, but there is no guarantee the appeal would be granted, according to a letter Goodell himself wrote to all team owners.

Widely scrutinized by his peers for mismanaging Rice’s seemingly soft punishment, Goodell led many people to believe that the NFL did not take domestic violence seriously as a crime, which forced his hand.

At least Goodell admitted that he made a big mistake in his letter he wrote to the owners. 

“Our personal conduct policy has long made clear that domestic violence and sexual assault are unacceptable,” the commissioner wrote in the letter. “We clearly must do a better job of addressing these incidents in the NFL. And we will.”

With the league instating a new domestic violence policy, a lingering question remains about Rice: Does his first offense, handled so poorly by Goodell and the NFL front office, count as a first offense under the new policy and place him in line for an even stricter, lifetime ban if history repeats itself?

Right now the NFL is uncertain whether or not Rice’s domestic violence charge will be considered his first offense or if he will be given a clean slate.

The NFL’s refusal to address the issue completely contradicts the reason it reconstructed its policy in the first place — to rectify the mistakes they made in handling Rice’s punishment.

It will be interesting to see how the NFL intends to avoid yet another debacle, especially since San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested for domestic abuse Sunday, just three days after the new policy took effect.