Almost midway through the NFL football season following the Ray Rice domestic violence, the incident seems to have had no effect on fans viewing games which means the bottom line of the NFL is quite secure. Reports obtained by Reuters from Nielson shows that fan viewership in the first month of the season increased this year on ESPN, CBS and NBC. And like many major corporations, the NFL may believe that if their bottom line is intact, it can weather the storm and carry on with business as usual.
In cases involving major corporations, the economic hit to the bottom line is what matters in most cases, more than people. It’s what is called putting profits over people. Whether it’s a major car manufacturer as with Toyota’s Prius and Camry unintended acceleration and brake malfunctions allegedly causing injury and death and massive recalls which resulted in so far over 1 billion dollar in payouts to car owners. Toyota’s image or sales have not been tarnished. And in the case of major drug manufacturer, Merck, agreed to pay over $4 billion to settle almost 30,000 claims of those who took Vioxx and were injured or died as a result. Erik Gordon, a pharmaceutical analyst says it’s just the cost of doing business. As long as the bottom line stays intact, many corporations are satisfied with doing little to make changes going forward. In this regard, the NFL appears no different than a Merck or Toyota.
During his press release in September, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell says he intends to make changes to the NFL’s domestic violence policy or lack thereof by the date of the Super Bowl. By the time Commissioner Goodell decides to issue protocols in February, 2015, it will have been 1 year since the Ray Rice incident and the football season will have concluded. Unless some new major development is discovered in the Rice incident, or new allegations of domestic violence arise in other cases or someone dies as a result of domestic violence, it will be easy for the NFL to treat the Rice incident as the cost of doing business.
Despite denials from some within the NFL, Jerry Angelo, a former Chicago Bears general manager spoke out about hundreds of domestic violence complaints during his 30 years in the league that went unpunished. Being able to acknowledge that a past history exists of wrongdoings, is one way to move towards changing the future. How can the NFL move forward if it will not admit to its past wrongdoings beyond the Ray Rice incident? It did not only get the Ray Rice incident wrong, there is a pattern and practice of wrongdoing in the NFL that spans decades. Going back to famed NFL player Jim Brown who in 1968 faced his first of many domestic violence charges, an assault with intent to murder, with other domestic violence charges following in 1985, 1986 and 1999. One of the most egregious domestic violence cases was former Carolina Panthers player, Rae Carruth, who was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder on his pregnant girlfriend in 1999. A USA Today database that tracks NFL player arrests since 2000 found there were 87 domestic violence arrests among 80 players. And these numbers only deal with arrests and not actual complaints that did not result in an arrest.
In order to prevent the NFL from lapsing back into its status of business as usual, it will first take the efforts of many advocates against domestic violence, many women’s organizations and the general public to muster a moral pulse for the NFL. Future discussions will be held with the NFL and representatives of the Women’s Black Roundtable following their October 2, 2014 meeting with NFL representatives. The NFL has named an anti-violence policy group that will meet regularly to assist in designing a league protocol on handling domestic violence. However, there must be more action taken on the domestic violence issue in the NFL to prevent future incidents from occurring or to prevent someone’s life from being taken by a NFL player.
The issue of domestic violence is a complex issue in the NFL. And it must have a comprehensive approach in dealing with the issue. No matter what the approach, it can no longer just be business as usual for the NFL.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who has represented many victims of domestic violence.