In the midst of the massive Ray Rice controversy, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been doing quite a bit of letter writing to the league’s teams, most of it on the topic of domestic violence.
He sent another Monday morning, announcing the names and extensive credentials of four women who will help shape the league’s policies on domestic violence and sexual assault in the days ahead.
Critics will call this another public-relations move designed to save Goodell’s job.
I’m not so sure about that. On the contrary, if the NFL follows through seriously with the initiatives it is proposing, the people who are calling for Goodell to resign might find instead that they have no greater ally on the causes they hold dear.
If the past three weeks are an indication, Goodell seems determined to bring change. We know the torrent of criticism over the handling of the Rice case and videos has been the catalyst, but still, I can’t recall another league becoming so serious so fast about an off-the-field issue.
Has any commissioner apologized so completely and publicly as Goodell has, saying bluntly in late August that he “didn’t get it right” with his original two-game suspension of Rice in July? When do we ever hear a commissioner say that he blew it?
In this way, Goodell’s critics have company. The commissioner himself agrees with you.
We all know why Goodell has apologized and continues to try to get his domestic violence policy right. It’s because he got it so wrong from the start, and has been criticized so stridently since.
But let’s for a moment let go of the reason why Goodell appears to be so aggressively pursuing a strong course of action to combat domestic violence. And let’s focus on what he actually, officially, really appears to be doing:
Goodell wrote to the teams and staff Monday to tell them he has given NFL vice president of community affairs and philanthropy Anna Isaacson a new and expanded role as NFL vice president of social responsibility. She will oversee the development of a full range of education, training and support programs, Goodell said, which he first articulated in a letter on August 28, when he announced the league’s new six-game punishment for a first domestic violence offense.
He also announced that the league was retaining the services of three senior advisors — Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith — to lead the NFL’s policies and programs on domestic violence and sexual assault.
Friel was head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the New York County District Attorney’s Office for more than a decade. Randel is the cofounder of NO MORE, a national initiative to raise the profile of and normalize the conversation about domestic violence and sexual assault. Smith is the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
These are accomplished women who are familiar with power, something the league office has had in alarmingly short supply. That cannot continue to be the case.
For Goodell and the NFL to really tackle domestic violence, these leaders need to be a significant part of the decision making moving forward. Appointing these experts was a good idea, but they will only be as strong as the backing of the commissioner who chose them. At the same time, women alone are not responsible for thinking about the well-being of women. Goodell must continue to lead and live up to the league’s promises.
This has to become the most serious thing Goodell has done in his career. From the letters he is writing, and the announcements he is making, I believe he realizes it. Now it’s up to him to convince others.
Follow Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.