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A Crack in the Shield

Do you feel that? No, that is not an earthquake in the traditional sense but the proverbial nature of the shaking is rocking the NFL and it’s owners to it’s core. Maybe this Christmas the National Football League and it’s commissioner Roger Goodell can send Ray Rice a thank you note full of coal, because it was his incident on February 15th of this year the started the rumbling that has turned the NFL on it’s side and put everyone on notice.

Ray Rice

On February 15, 2014, the NFL’s public relations nightmare began with a single blow. That night, inside an elevator at Atlantic City’s Revel hotel Ray Rice would strike his then fiance Janay Palmer in the face and knock her completely unconscious. At first, the incident in itself was contained. Footage leaked of the aftermath of the incident with Rice dragging her out of the elevator, but no one at the time saw the actual violent act. The NFL would follow state prosecutors and give Rice a simple slap on the wrist with a two game suspension. The state of NJ would only put Rice in a pre-trial intervention program.

While Rice and his future wife would go on to move past the incident and with her forgiveness and the counselling the couple received, they would be wed on March 28, 2014. Only one day after Rice was indicted on charges for the actions that knocked her unconscious.

It is hard to be sure which in hindsight was the more atrocious punishment. Less than one percent of people accused of what Ray Rice was charged with get offered such a pre-trial program according to those within NJ’s own state prosecutor’s office. It’s not such a stretch that Rice got preferential treatment due to his celebrity. Though that is something one will never know until someone comes forward claiming one way or the other. It has been suggested but not proven. The NFL for it’s part gave Rice only a 2 game ban. The NFL with their high powered security team and legion of investigators did their due diligence and came away thinking that only 2 games were a sufficient punishment for the actions of Rice towards his future wife that evening.

For Rice’s part, witnesses as well as Goodell and Raven’s owner Steve Bisciotti state that Rice told them the complete truth about what happened on February 15th and Rice’s wife Janay also testified. Janay would ask for Goodell not to ruin Rice’s image due to a one time incident that had never happened before or since. Goodell obviously listened and then handed Rice a 2 game ban that was blasted in both mainstream media as well as social media. Viewed as inconsistent punishment, Goodell defended his stance based on the evidence he had on the incident and the legal system’s conclusions.

Then on September 8th, 2014 the NFL, Baltimore Ravens and Ray Rice himself were put on the front of every news outlet and paper, broadcast and podcast with one post via TMZ Sports website. In the early morning hours (4 AM EST), TMZ posted the full video of Ray Rice’s incident in the elevator at the Revel in Atlantic City. Not just a clip, the full video. As people would rise that morning, Ray Rice and his future with the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL were put in immediate danger. For the first time fans, media, the NFL and more importantly the NFL’s sponsors could see exactly what happened in that elevator that night.

The firestorm did not take long to force action. By mid day, the Ravens had released Rice and the NFL would follow up shortly after by extending Rice’s suspension indefinitely. Punishment that should have been taken immediately was only then taken by public backlash and outcries, followed by pressure from the NFL’s most important base… sponsors. The NFL backed against a wall finally took the correct actions. While Goodell would admit later to getting it wrong and trying to make it right, the damage was done and he along with the entire NFL were put on notice.

The NFL and Ravens both stated that they never saw the full tape. A statement that the public finds very hard to believe considering the reach of NFL security and the little fact that TMZ only had to make one phone call to the casino. Just one phone call.

Adrian Peterson

The world was watching and not even a week later… On September 12th, 2014 Adrian Peterson was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child in Montgomery County, Texas. For a couple of days questions would swirl on Peterson’s status, and at first he was still going to play that Sunday. However, it was soon determined that while the Minnesota Vikings and owner Zygi Wilf supported Peterson pending due process that the best course of action was to deactivate him for the game versus the New England Patriots that weekend.

Only 4 days after TMZ released the tape of Rice and his wife, blasted all over the website and around the internet were images of the damage Peterson had done to his 4 year old son who was visiting from Minnesota. Lashes from a switch (thin tree branch) had caused welts, cuts and bruising to the child’s legs and yes, scrotum. Peterson, while apologetic for going too far would defend his actions as proper parenting and while the first grand jury would agree a second did proceed to indict him on charges. The NFL and Vikings fresh on the heels of the Ray Rice situation only days earlier were not in a position to stall or drag their feet.

Any attempts at due process were stomped out almost immediately by once again the NFL’s biggest concern, a sponsor. Money rules and when even a minority sponsor such as the Radisson hotel in Minnesota pulled all of their endorsement of the Vikings the Vikings and NFL listened and acted quickly. Using a little known NFL Exempt List (questions still continue over the previous existence of said list), the Vikings moved Peterson on to the list to appease the public outcry. The NFL’s Exempt List is basically the NFL’s way of sending Peterson home with pay for the entirety of the time he is on the list. Peterson had to volunteer to be placed on the list and the team can reactivate him at any time. The team and the league for it’s part has said Peterson will only return to active status once his legal issues have been resolved.

Unlike Rice, Peterson has still yet to go through his due process. He now has an expedited trial day of December 1st in an effort to still resume playing football this season. While his return this season remains up in the air, his quick resolution might force the Vikings to take further action sooner than they would like to and release or terminate Peterson from his contract. That however, seems far fetched. Unlike Rice, Peterson is in his prime and performing at high level and everyone knows the NFL protects their stars.

The public remains out for blood, so Peterson no matter how likable or talented might be sacrificed no matter the result of his trial or how many people come to his defense such as Charles Barkley and others who defend Peterson’s right to punish his child. Peterson’s case which is horrific, remains more debated than Rice due to protection of the child coming first but many who were raised that way defending the manor in which he was disciplined. Peterson will get his day in court soon to get everything sorted out.

Greg Hardy

The Carolina Panthers were very defiant until they weren’t. Greg Hardy was convicted on June 15th, 2014 of assaulting a female, and communicating threats. Not accused, not suspected… but convicted. While pending his appeal and new trial this November, the NFL did not suspend Hardy. They did not punish Hardy at all. While the world saw Ray Rice get slapped with a 2 game ban for assaulting his then fiance, Hardy did not miss a practice or a game. In face, the Panthers were not even going to deactivate Hardy at all until public outrage became so loud that the morning of their week 2 game versus the Detroit Lions that they finally caved and sat him down for the game. A game that took place only days after a tearful Panther’s owner Jerry Richardson received an award for his work on of all things… domestic violence.

Greg Hardy would join Adrian Peterson on September 17th on the NFL’s Exempt List. Once again, receiving his full pay to simply sit at home.

Ray McDonald

Then there is the Ray McDonald case… that is not pending. The San Francisco 49ers and the NFL have not punished Ray McDonald for an incident that happened August 31st. For the 49ers part, since no formal charges have been filed against McDonald by the Santa Clara County District Attorney, there is no reason to punish McDonald. McDonald is not charged with domestic violence despite the bruising on his fiance’s arm and the filing of a report. There was also an incident 3 months prior without charges against McDonald as well.

In defense of the NFL and the 49ers, it’s hard to take action when the legal system refuses to take action first.

Cracking of the Shield

Roger Goodell’s seat has never been warmer. The NFL is now under constant scrutiny and the watchful eye of every news and media journalist out there. Every NFL player that even jaywalks will be put on blast and the public is now out for blood. Right or wrong, the NFL’s lack of action and inconsistent action at that, has them backed into a corner. Make no mistake though, the NFL did not take action against Rice and to an extent, Peterson and Hardy due to fan backlash. No, they took action due to sponsorship pressure. The NFL cares about one thing and that is money.

Did the NFL and Goodell see the full Ray Rice tape? Who knows. But one thing we do know is that they either didn’t care to see it or didn’t take enough action if they did see the tape. The lack of leadership and consistent direction is why Goodell should be fired or resign. Getting the situation right is all that matters in the end because Goodell knows a few things… First, he will not be forced out. He as the full support of the owners and is safe. Secondly, the public has a very short attention span. No one is talking about Ray Rice now. Not after the Peterson incident. The public moves on and as long as they keep watching and spending he is completely safe as commissioner.

For every fan that cries how awful the NFL is and how hypocritical it is that they dedicate an entire month towards helping with breast cancer yet doesn’t properly stand up for women that are abused by their players, or how a player can get banned a year for marijuana (Josh Gordon, suspension was reduced) and yet not for violence, they still watch. The NFL ratings are not taking a dip, if anything they are at an all time high. Fans are still attending and selling out games no matter how “angry” they are at the lack of action from the league. While the fans and public in general have pitchforks out and are lined up ready to put Roger Goodell to the flames, they have not stopped nor will they stop supporting the NFL’s on the field product. The NFL knows that and that is exactly why they will not bend to public pressure. Not now, not ever.

The NFL does care about one thing though… When the Radisson pulled their sponsorship of the Vikings in wake of a press conference that had their name plastered in the background, the NFL took notice. Who really knows the number of sponsors that are talking in private about the NFL’s recent actions. Has Nike said anything? What about Under Armor? Major sponsors and minority sponsors such as the Radisson are the only thing that will make the NFL balk. Even the Washington Redskins blinked when FedEx refused to issue a vote of support for the team’s name. Under the current firestorm, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that might be the next domino to follow.

Goodell, for his part remains defiant and yet, apologetic. Admitting his faults and somehow trying to provide little peace offerings to the public as a way of showing that he cares. Investigations into the handling of the Rice case with former FBI Director Robert Mueller and policies that are now in place to hopefully prevent such things from happening in the future. Goodell knows that fans will never abandon the NFL no matter how angry. They didn’t for Mike Vick or Pacman Jones, they didn’t even over the Redskins name issue. Then again… Rome was never supposed to fall either.

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