The Josh Brown saga is just another black eye for a league attempting to paint itself as good guys. Which is funny, because you’d have to be pretty naive to believe any professional sports entity is filled with ethical, philanthropic, humanitarians. Most Americans don’t believe the league is “good guys,” we cognitively understand the flaws of gladiators and their wealthy owners employed to crack each other’s skulls.
The Brown disaster is only this bad because Roger Goodell and the 32 Dwarves actually don’t know who exactly they are. The NFL is lost in the forest without a compass, wondering how to do “what’s right” while making as much money as one lifetime allows and winning a few football games in between. See this goes back to Ray Rice’s armageddon two years ago when the NFL was forced to face its morality in the face. And it didn’t know who was staring back at it.
When Rice assaulted his fiancee in an Atlantic City elevator the NFL had enough evidence to decide how to proceed. They had the police report which very clearly stated the incident. He “struck her with his hand, rendering her unconscious,” it read. The league didn’t need video (and could’ve obtained it if it so wished). So the NFL suspended him two games and the Ravens would have him back for the bulk of the season. It was only when the video came to light and the country dry heaved that Goodell’s office came down much harder, deeming him ineligible for the entire season. The league had been forced to reassess its embarrassingly light punishment because of public outcry. The owners, who were largely deaf to the idea their fans weren’t happy with domestic abusers, were forced to capitulate.
In the aftermath of the Rice mess the league decided on a new baseline of punishment. Six games even if the player is not found guilty in a court of law, even if it’s only the threat of violence. The policy reads: “Even if your conduct does not result in a criminal conviction, if the league finds that you have engaged in any of the following conduct, you will be subject to discipline. Prohibited conduct includes but is not limited to the following: Actual or threatened physical violence against another person, including dating violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and other forms of family violence.”
So the NFL bounced like a ping pong ball in how it viewed the severity of domestic violence from 2 games to 16 games, to 6 games all within 10 months. Not exactly a group of people with conviction in their beliefs. But that’s fine, as long as you adhere to your new awareness. The owners and commissioner insisted they had seen the light and learned hard lessons along the way. The new enlightenment didn’t last long. In Brown’s situation, the league and the Giants have been forced to admit there’s no new wisdom. Just haphazard morals that are pulled and twisted like salt water taffy.
That’s how we get Brown’s original suspension in August being only one game without clarification by the league. How to interpret that? He’s guilty of something, everyone agrees since the Giants didn’t appeal. But he wasn’t subjected to the very policy for this exact situation? That’s how we get owner John Mara admitting on WFAN yesterday that he never spoke to Brown’s wife as part of their investigation, despite him telling the organization he abused her. That disappearing enlightenment is why after another public deluge of criticism the Giants left Brown home for their game against the Rams. The team didn’t announce this Wednesday night when the extent of Brown’s abuse hit the media. It wasn’t Thursday morning after a night to digest it. It was at 5p that afternoon, after a full day of haranguing from fans and critics. Again, a jar of ethics that can get shaken up like jelly beans given the situation.
Making it worse is that Mara talked tough in the aftermath of the new DV policy two years ago. He told SI.com, “We want our standards to be higher, we want there to be more education, and we want the penalties to be tougher, because we want to do what we can to put an end to domestic violence and sexual assault.”
Sigh. Mara went on to say, “Everybody takes these issues seriously now. We all realize how important an issue domestic violence and sexual assault is in our society. Our team has gone through the educational program, our business staff will go through it next week, and it is something we are trying to emphasize. We all take it seriously, and I think the policy is going to have a huge effect.”
We keep watching the NFL spin its wheels in its treatment of domestic violence for a very simple reason: It doesn’t know what’s right. All along this road it has used the public’s outcry to decide what’s the best response. The league has no inner moral compass leading its way. The NFL is a marathon runner who is completely lost on the course, constantly looking at all of us along the route pointing in the direction of the finish line. The NFL has every right to state it is not in the behavioral punishment game, that it cannot fairly discipline players for the myriad of private issues they deal with. The NFL could go the other way and proclaim every player with any skeleton in the closet or legal trouble could be permanently barred from the league. But it’s a bi-polar public pleaser, trying to declare its new book of ethics every time there’s an issue (or not). And once you don’t know who you actually are, you are permanently lost.
D.A. hosts 6-10pm ET on the CBS Sports Radio Network. He has hosted The D.A. Show (aka “The Mothership”) in Boston, Miami, Kansas City and Ft. Myers, FL. You can often catch him on the NFL Network’s series “Top 10.” D.A. graduated from Syracuse University in ’01, and began looking for ways to make a sports radio show into a quirky 1970’s sci-fi television series. Follow D.A. on Twitter and check out the show’s Facebook page. D.A. lives in NYC, and is a native of Warwick, NY.