September 18, 2014

The actions of several National Football League players have thrown an unprecedented focus on how the league has dealt with the incidents.

The first scandal erupted on Monday, 8 September, when the gossip website TMZ posted a second video of running back Ray Rice, then of the Baltimore Ravens, knocking his then fiancee Janay unconscious in an elevator.

The incident happened back in February, when Rice and Janay were both arrested and charged over the altercation in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. Part of the incident – Rice dragging his fiancee out of the elevator – was leaked to TMZ at the time.

But once an Atlantic County prosecutor handling the case allowed Rice to enter a pre-trial programme and avoid prosecution, it appeared the public relations fallout from the crisis would soon be over.

Ray and Janay Rice

Rice and Janay appeared at a joint press conference and his now wife apologised for her role in the incident.

Without viewing the altercation itself, the public was generally underwhelmed by Rice's two-game suspension from the NFL, but outrage was limited.

And once the NFL announced an altered, supposedly strengthened domestic violence policy, it seemed the crisis was over. Rice even received a standing ovation from some Ravens fans.

That changed as soon as TMZ posted the new, second video of the incident itself on Monday morning, 8 September.

Within hours, the Ravens had released Rice. Soon after, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely.

And with that, the focus shifted, from Rice himself, to how the NFL handled the Rice case, and what it knew.

Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, went on television on the Wednesday evening and made a number of claims – that he hadn't seen the tape, that it would have been illegal to ask for the tape, and that the NFL office had never received the tape.

While there's no evidence that Goodell had actually seen it, a number of his other claims have been disputed.

The Associated Press reported that the NFL received the tape in April, and the New Jersey State Police pointed out that Goodell had every right to ask for the tape from the casino.

But Rice is not the only problem the league is facing right now. Adrian Peterson, a star running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was arrested and charged with child abuse on Saturday.

Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings

Once again, the charges were supplemented by visual evidence, police releasing pictures of Peterson's four-year-old son's injuries. Peterson had allegedly beaten the child with a tree branch.

Peterson himself tried to undo the public relations damage, releasing a statement that acknowledged doing so, but asserting that he didn't believe such a thing constituted child abuse.

The Vikings had deactivated Peterson on Sunday, but announced plans to activate him this week.

That would have placed the NFL at the centre of a difficult decision again, but the Vikings abruptly changed course early on Wednesday, and took Peterson off the field indefinitely.

Where this leaves the NFL, who have hired three consultants to help them deal with issues relating to domestic violence and sexual assault, remains to be seen. The league has plenty of other potential embarrassing issues to deal with already.

The Carolina Panthers reversed course this past week at the last minute, deactivating Greg Hardy, a star defensive end who'd been convicted of assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Defensive lineman Ray McDonald is also facing a domestic violence charge, and the San Francisco 49ers are letting him play.

The actions and inactions of the NFL are starting to be reflected in uneasy statements from sponsors like Cover Girl and Anheuser-Busch, while Radisson dropped its sponsorship of the Vikings in light of the Peterson story.

The primary motivation NFL franchise owners have for keeping Goodell in charge – all the money he's made them – is only a salvation for him as long as the sponsors, and viewers, stick around. The average NFL franchise is now worth $1.4bn, and the league took in $9.5bn in revenue last year.

Across the country, outrage has been palpable. Many fans have announced they are turning their backs on the NFL. Fantasy leagues have been disbanded. Even the league's own television outlets, such as Fox, CBS and ESPN, have been sharply critical.

Whether the NFL will be targeted for this kind of attention moving forward, or if the country has moved to a different place in its tolerance for heroes in any sport committing domestic violence, is something we'll learn in the coming months.


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