When you are a corporate behemoth you inherently reek of hypocrisy. The sheer vastness of your enterprise dictates it. You may say all the right things but what you do defines you much more than what you say. In that regard the NFL is no different. With revenues of over US$10 billion last year, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell realises that with great wealth comes great responsibility as well as heightened visibility, hence his endless promotion of the good ship NFL and all it's diversity and inclusion.
"Since becoming commissioner, my focus has been on ensuring the NFL is held in the highest regard by our fans, players, business partners and public authorities," he told league owners this week while also adding: "Our mission has been to create and sustain model workplaces filled with people of character."
One of those character-filled people is Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl player. Earlier this year Rice was charged with third degree aggravated assault for allegedly knocking out his fiancée and dragging her prone and unconscious body out of an elevator, all of it captured on security cameras in an Atlantic City casino. The outrage was loud and clear. After much deliberation Goodell decided Rice must be punished and suspended him for the first two games of the coming season. Two games. Again the outrage was loud and clear and a defensive Goodell managed to inflame things even more by saying, "It has to be consistent with other cases and it was."
This past week the NFL announced that it was upholding its suspension of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for all 16 games of the upcoming season. Gordon's transgression was testing positive for marijuana for the third time, prompting many media analysts to opine that if you hit a woman you get two games but if you hit a bong you get 16.
Again the outrage was loud and clear and not necessarily in defence of Gordon but against a league whose priorities seem totally skewed. Arguably the best receiver in the league last year, Gordon's actions are still indefensible. He has repeatedly tested positive for banned substances going back to college and despite only having trace amounts of marijuana in his system and claiming it was second-hand smoke, according to the labour agreement signed by the NFL players' union the third time results in a one-year suspension.
Despite the demon weed being legal in states where two of the NFL's teams play, the league has adopted a draconian stance towards it and prefers fans and players get their official buzz from their corporate partner Anheuser-Busch, whose Budweiser beer ads run on a non-stop reel during games and feature the NFL logo on their bottles. In fact, a recent study by a consumer group found 50 per cent of the commercials during NFL telecasts show at least one advertisement featuring sex, drugs or alcohol during afternoon games when a large portion of the audience is children.
The NFL claims the Gordon ruling and the Rice ruling have nothing to do with each other. However, they are positively and unequivocally related to each other because the same private corporation that decided that a player who had trace elements of marijuana in his system is banned for a year also decided that a player who was caught on video dragging his unconscious girlfriend from an elevator is only going to miss a grand total of two games.
You can spin it any way you want but these are the facts. And in a result-oriented industry like the NFL this is the result: in week three of the season when the Ravens meet the Browns, Rice will be on the field but Gordon will not. Rice will be making his return from his two-game suspension and could well have an impact on the result. But it's not my job to convince you that the NFL is a better place today because Gordon is not eligible to play in it this year but Rice is. It's Goodell's job and the often imperious commissioner finally acknowledged late this week the league is now implementing sweeping and harsh new rules concerning domestic violence; a minimum of six games suspension for a first offence and lifetime ban for a second.
Goodell admitted the public outrage at his initial ruling was the catalyst and also took responsibility for underestimating the severity of Rice's offence by claiming, "I didn't get it right." Yes Roger, among many other things. But hey, at least it's a start.