NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said virtually nothing in his Friday press conference as Procter & Gamble announced it is canceling an on-field breast cancer awareness promotion it had been planning with the league. The consumer-products maker became the latest major sponsor to express its concerns with the way the NFL has handled domestic violence incidents, following Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Nike and others
By Lewis Gould
Roger Goodell, considered by many the most powerful man in sports, found himself in an unusual position Friday for a sports commissioner.
Emerging from an almost two-week silence following a national uproar over the NFL’s handling of a player’s domestic violence incident, Goodell stood at a podium in the ballroom of a New York hotel and tried to staunch the league’s bleeding.
The commissioner seemed chastened and, at the same time, defiant.
His words were apologetic and solemn in his 1,220-word opening statement.
“At our best, the NFL sets an example that makes a positive difference,” said Goodell, the $44-million head of the nation’s most popular sports league. “Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong. That starts with me.”
Goodell said he will establish a conduct committee, one that finds a balance between taking a firm stance against violent acts while acknowledging the right to due process. He sent a memo to all 32 teams late Thursday, announcing the league is entering into a long-term partnership to provide financial, operational and promotional support to two of the country’s leading domestic violence and sexual assault resources.
He said all league and team personnel, within the next 30 days, will be instructed about the problems of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Goodell’s polished, corporate image, complete with dark suit and striped tie, faded into a stream of vague answers to questions as the news conference continued. Few specifics about his proposals emerged.
Instead he made generic apologies and earnest promises “to get this right,” often referring back to his opening statement.
He didn’t look calm or comfortable or, really, like a man in his element. His approach, in almost all cases, appeared well-rehearsed. Emotion was fleeting, as if he were addressing a gathering of corporate sponsors instead of a nationally televised news conference.
At one point, he pursed his lips, closed his eyes and bowed his head.
“These are very complex issues,” he said. “Our country has a legal system that everyone needs to respect. When there is evidence of misconduct by anyone in the NFL, we need to carefully consider when to act and on what evidence.”
Countless people narrated Goodell’s news conference on Twitter, among them some NFL players who were sharply critical of his performance.
Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was arrested in May for allegedly assaulting and threatening his girlfriend. He was convicted in July and sentenced to probation and a 60-day suspended jail sentence. He has been deactivated by the Panthers.
San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence on Aug. 31 for allegedly striking his pregnant fiance. A hearing in the case was suspended as the investigation continues. McDonald continues to play for the 49ers.
Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted last week on felony child abuse charges stemming from an incident in May. Authorities allege Peterson was abusive when disciplining his 4-year-old son by using a switch to spank him. Peterson has been deactivated by the team.
“What Roger just said is the exact same thing that players say when they make a mistake and plead their case,” Baltimore Ravens receiver Torrey Smith tweeted.
Washington Redskins safety Ryan Clark wrote: “Judging by the tweets I am happy I studied film & worked through Roger’s presser. Not interested in throwing up today!!!”
Things got worse for the NFL on Friday after Goodell’s news conference. In a story posted online, ESPN reported the Baltimore Ravens almost immediately knew about the contents of a video showing running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a casino elevator.
The report, cited more than 20 unnamed sources, said the contents of the video from the February incident was described to the Ravens’ head of security. It goes on to say Ravens officials lobbied Goodell to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension, which was the initial punishment. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello did not answer any questions about this report, instead refering to an ongoing investigation headed by former FBI director Robert Mueller. Aiello said that report will be made public.
A senior Obama administration official told reporters Thursday during a briefing about a new White House public awareness campaign on preventing sexual assaults on college campuses that “the most recent revelations of abuse by the NFL players is really deeply troubling.”
“The NFL has an obligation not only to their fans but to the American people to properly discipline anyone involved in domestic violence or child abuse and more broadly, gain control of the situation,” the official said.
On Friday, Procter & Gamble announced it is canceling an on-field breast cancer awareness promotion it had been planning with the league. The consumer-products maker became the latest major sponsor to express its concerns with the way the NFL has handled domestic violence incidents, following Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, Nike and others.
National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill repeated her calls for Goodell to resign, saying his news conference “did nothing to increase confidence in his ability to lead the NFL out of its morass.”
Added O’Neill: “What Mr. Goodell doesn’t seem to understand is that he should be aiming to make fundamental changes in the organization.”
Goodell’s handling of the Rice domestic violence situation was in stark contrast to how the public viewed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s treatment of Donald Sterling.