When it comes to American football, the nation’s most popular sport, virtually every player is placed into the limelight. When players commit crimes, that limelight is either drastically brightened or dimmed. The NFL chooses to protect its players and its integrity as any sports league would want to do; this is key to the longevity and popularity of the sport. However, the NFL shows a conflicting combination of mercy and confidentiality to criminals within the league because there is a need to cover up the inherent barbarism of those who play the sport, especially when it comes to domestic violence.
USA Today has a comprehensive database of all NFL arrests (including citations, indictments, and detainments) between 2000 and 2014, and an article from FiveThirtyEight.com proffers a visual rendition of this data in relation to other men in the age group of most football players. The combination of these data sets shows two things: first, the outcomes of a majority of NFL players’ crimes are left undetermined. This means that over the last decade and a half, hundreds of cases have gone unfinished and unresolved, leaving room for further error on the part of the players. Secondly, a little higher than 55 percent of those arrests are due to domestic violence. Though much lower than the national average, it’s still a high number compared to men in general. “...55.4 percent is more than four times worse than the league’s arrest rate for all offenses (13 percent), and domestic violence accounts for 48 percent of arrests for violent crimes among NFL players, compared to our estimated 21 percent nationally,” writes Benjamin Morris, the author of the FiveThirtyEight article. Morris proposes that “If the NFL is capable of reducing any harm its players are causing — whether through harsher suspensions or other policies targeting behavior — it may have a legal (or at least moral) duty to do so.”
Morris’ statement presents the crux of the argument. There is an understanding that football players are capable of causing harm not only to one another- but to those in their homes, to those in their communities, and to themselves. Many fans might argue that policing one’s off-field demeanor may take away from their aggression on the field and their effectiveness with play execution. However, one must ask where the line between the passion that fuels sport crosses into something unacceptable. Those numbers are concrete and the data is unwavering- over the last ten years, out of 93 cases, at least two thirds of those domestic violence charges have no resolution or have been rapidly acquitted without punishment from the league. The punishment generally comes from the team and few players were cut days after their arrests. However, those few are the exceptions to the rule of lackadaisical policing within the NFL. What can be done about these situations? What can league commissioner Roger Goodell do when it comes to punitive judgement for those who commit crimes in the NFL?
Considering Goodell has had to face a flurry of drama and controversy since he became the commissioner in 2006, he has done well to keep his composure. Yet this summer’s headlines about former Baltimore Ravens Running back, Ray Rice, seem to have expended all of his calm. In past years, domestic violence has been lightly dealt with and pushed under the rug as something to become a common statistic within the league. However, the Ray Rice case has helped Goodell and the league as a whole see that something must be done. On August 28th, USAToday published a copy of a letter the Commissioner wrote to the coaches and general NFL community, addressing the domestic violence problem within the league. In this letter, Goodell outlined the repercussions for domestically and sexually violent players. He shows that there will be very little leniency for offenders: “Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child. A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL; while an individual may petition for reinstatement after one year, there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted.”
Despite the new disciplinary standards, there is still a small amount of leeway given to members of the NFL. Though they are stern and strict, they are rules that can still be bent. A pliable rule is one of the most dangerous things an institution can adopt as exceptions can be made left and right to accomodate for the credibility and popularity thereof. Although the new standards that have been set mention that a second offense will result in banishment from the NFL, there is still a possibility for reinstatement. There is hope for those who commit heinous acts, covered by the veil of a new set of rules. The NFL takes a strong position against domestic violence, but not one strong enough to ensure that the numbers of both victims and perpetrators is reduced to none. All a criminal needs is the hope that he will not be caught. When the NFL shows this small and subtle amount of leniency is shown on heinous acts like domestic violence, it does nothing but perpetuate the idea that barbarism is a commonly accepted theme within the league.