The ineffectual NFL

Sports with Sophie

On May 28, 2015, Molly Brown reported to detectives that her then-husband, New York Giants kicker Josh Brown, had been physically violent toward her more than 20 times over the preceding years. The report was filed after Molly Brown called the police two days in a row — May 21 and May 22 — to report domestic violence occurring in her house. The following April, Josh Brown re-signed with the New York Giants, agreeing to a large two-year $4 million contract.

But let’s rewind a little bit: On July 24, 2014, Ray Rice received a two-game suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after domestic abuse charges that were filed against Rice and supported by a video depicting Rice dragging his fiance’s unconscious body out of an elevator. Later, another video of Rice was released in which he punched his fiancee directly in the face, causing her to lose consciousness. The video, and initial underreaction by the league, spurred huge public outcry and anger.

On Aug. 28, 2014, due to backlash over the way in which he mishandled the Rice case, Goodell announced that the NFL would adopt a new domestic abuse policy — one that enumerated that first-time offenders would receive a six-game unpaid suspension and second-time offenders would receive a lifetime ban.

But despite this hypothetically stringent policy, Brown only received a one-game suspension when he was arrested in 2015 for domestic abuse. Brown’s single-game suspension echoed the underreaction to the Rice case, only this time there were specific rules in place that were supposed to prevent this very thing from happening.

Although the NFL found that Brown had violated the league’s “Personal Conduct Policy,” the fact that law enforcement and Molly Brown would not participate in the investigation apparently meant that the NFL did not have enough information to support prior allegations. Thus, the domestic violence six-game ban was not applicable.

It was a half-hearted and weak attempt on the part of the league to dampen the severity of the situation — because whether or not Molly Brown complied with the NFL investigation, she had filed multiple police reports on her own. Reports that, might I add, contained sufficient evidence to render Brown a recipient of the stricter six-game ban.

And, besides, why would Brown want to comply with a league that, given its history of mishandling domestic violence cases, doesn’t have her best interests at heart?

Additionally, sharing the intimate and likely painful experience of being repeatedly abused is not something that any person should have to recount over and over again. Confessing to the NFL especially opens the collective eye to a far greater degree, exposing her to public criticism that few in her position desire or deserve.

Last Thursday, though, new evidence was presented to the NFL in the form of Josh Brown’s personal journal. The journal, and other documents, were turned over to police back in May 2015 during the initial domestic violence investigation for which Brown was arrested.

The documents are upsetting to say the least and reveal Brown fully admitting his transgressions. In one of his entries, he wrote, “I have physically, mentally, verbally and emotionally been a repulsive man.”

“I have abused my wife.”

The next day, the NFL placed Brown on the exempt list — essentially putting him on paid leave. The following Tuesday, Brown was released by the Giants. That Tuesday was Oct. 25, 2016 — nearly a year and a half after the May 2015 incident in which he was arrested and years and years after the abuse initially started.

It’s been made abundantly clear that the NFL is neither equipped nor has the inclination to be the arbiter in domestic abuse cases. Time and time again, the league has mishandled cases and prioritized the guarding of their players over the safety of their spouses.

The fact that the NFL has even feigned interest by creating a domestic violence six-game punishment that it never has the intention of using is, quite frankly, more infuriating than if it had opted to remain out of all matters regarding the moral character of its players. In an ideal world, of course the NFL should care about how its members are acting off the field, but only to pretend to care is a slap in the face to those who are actually being negatively affected by these players’ actions.

And the NFL’s so-called “investigations” into these instances are only an excuse not to punish its players for crimes for which they have been arrested or even gone to court. The wide loopholes that exist in the league’s domestic violence policy are just some of the many ways that the NFL seeks to appear responsible in the public eye, without actually acting on these supposed regulations.

But for now, players such as Rice and Brown will continue to get off the hook while their spouses suffer the indefinite consequences — a travesty that will continue as long as the NFL avoids implementing policies that actually mean something.

Sophie Goethals writes the column about social issues in the world of sports and their potential ramifications. Contact her at [email protected]