- Roger Goodell was expected to protect the reputation of a profitable yet troubled sports league
- The NFL commissioner’s handling of domestic violence has led to calls for his resignation
- Goodell will publicly address the issue on Friday
New York (CNN) — When Roger Goodell took over as commissioner of the nation’s most popular sport in 2006, he was widely expected to mold and protect the reputation and well being of a sports league both profitable and prosperous yet tarnished by the misbehavior of some of its biggest stars.
But eight years later, the most powerful man in sports has been seemingly blindsided by the release of a video showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino and then dragging her out, unconscious.
The beleaguered commissioner was to hold a news conference, scheduled for 3 p.m. ET Friday, about his role in the domestic violence scandal.
Goodell, once viewed as a no-holds-barred enforcer who was called in to clean house, had levied a mere two-game suspension, based on an initial video from outside the elevator that only showed Rice dragging Palmer out. Later, the new footage that showed the punch prompted Goodell to suspend the veteran player indefinitely.
At that point, critics piled on the league’s would-be savior for his lenient disciplining of a star player.
Some questioned why Goodell hadn’t taken a tougher stand earlier. That would have sent an unequivocal statement about domestic violence in a league that includes 14 players who have been arrested for violence against women in the past two years, according to a Sports Illustrated article last week. Others called for his job.
The commissioner told CBS News on Tuesday that he was sickened by what he saw on the second Rice video. He insisted that that was the first time he or anyone in NFL headquarters had seen the full scope of the February incident.
He also deflected criticism of his handling of Rice’s case and his initial penalty.
When asked whether he really needed to see a video of the knockout punch to decide the length of Rice’s punishment, the commissioner said, “No.”
“What we saw in the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself,” Goodell said, referring to another video that surfaced in February after the incident, showing Rice dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator. “But what we saw yesterday was extremely clear. It was extremely graphic and it was sickening.”
Late Thursday, Goodell sent a memo to teams announcing a partnership with The National Domestic Violence Hotline as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). The league will provide financial and promotional support to both groups.
”These commitments will enable both the hotline and NSVRC to help more people affected by domestic violence and sexual assault,” Goodell said in the memo.
Last week, amid mounting criticism, the league announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead an independent inquiry into the league’s investigation and how it gathered evidence in the case.
Mueller will have access to all NFL records, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello. Two NFL owners who are attorneys — John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers — will oversee the independent investigation.
The National Organization for Women called Mueller’s appointment “just window dressing,” saying it didn’t go far enough.
“NOW continues to ask for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the entire NFL community — not just regarding the Ray Rice incident — and to recommend real and lasting reforms,” said NOW President Terry O’Neill.
The NFL has also said it is looking into an Associated Press report that a league executive in April received from a law enforcement official a copy of the second video, showing the punch that knocked Janay Rice
The law enforcement official had a short voice mail from April 9 in which someone calling from a number at an NFL office thanks the official, the AP reported. The caller says of the video, “You’re right. It’s terrible,” according to the AP.
The league has denied that anyone in its office had seen the video before it was posted online.
In August, in the wake of criticism over the two-game suspension for Rice, Goodell announced that the NFL had established a six-game unpaid ban for personnel who violate the league’s policy on domestic violence.
A second incident would be punished by a lifetime ban from the league, Goodell said in a letter and memo to the owners of the league’s 32 teams.
Without referring to Rice by name, Goodell acknowledged in his letter that he made the wrong decision in that case.
“I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will,” he wrote.
Goodell said circumstances that would warrant a longer suspension include incidents that predate a person’s time with an NFL team or acts that involve choking, repeated blows or a weapon. They also include violence against a pregnant woman or in view of child.
Lifetime bans may be appealed after a year.
Goodell’s letter asked teams to distribute a memo about the new policy to each player and all members of the organizations.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy states that employees are “held to a higher standard” of conduct.
“Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime,” the policy states.
In a memo Goodell sent to teams on Monday, the commissioner said he will work with four women “on the development and implementation of the league’s policies, resources and outreach on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The memo followed a tumultuous week for the man at the helm of the NFL. With Ray Rice suspended indefinitely for hitting his then-fiancee in an elevator, the league saw three more of its players come under scrutiny over domestic violence or child abuse allegations. Two of those players were deactivated for their Sunday games.
Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was deactivated after an East Texas grand jury indicted him on a child abuse charge. Peterson’s lawyer has said his client is innocent, and the Minnesota Vikings’ owners announced that Peterson will return to practice this week and is scheduled to play Sunday.
The Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy was scheduled to play Sunday but was deactivated shortly before game time following an outcry over his domestic violence case. Authorities say Hardy choked his then-girlfriend, threw her around, dragged her by her hair and threatened to kill her.
He was sentenced in July to 18 months of probation and a 60-day suspended sentence after a bench trial; he has appealed that ruling and a jury trial is scheduled for November.
Ray McDonald was allowed to play in the San Francisco 49ers’ Sunday night game against the Chicago Bears, but California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has asked the team to suspend McDonald after his arrest on domestic violence charges last month.
Police were called to a birthday party at McDonald’s home on August 31 and determined McDonald had been involved in an altercation with his fiancée, who was 10 weeks pregnant, The Sacramento Bee reported.
At a press conference Monday, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said the discussions on Hardy have been internal and that there have been no outside consultants.
Rivera would not say whether Hardy would be on the active roster Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Hardy played in week one against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but was deactivated for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.
On Friday, Goodell was again expected to answer critics during his biggest crises as commissioner.