NFL Fumbles Discipline

Nate Levinson, Sports Editor

The NFL is a mess and everyone is to blame. For years, the league has struggled with its players not acting like the role models they should be: racking up DUIs, abusing illegal substances and even offering money to teammates who injured opposing players.

Last week, however, has to take the cake as the worst in league history.

On Sept. 8, TMZ released a video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée with a punch last February. Then, on Sept. 12, reports surfaced that Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on charges of “reckless or negligent injury of a child” after he beat his 4-year-old son with a stick.

The Ravens have since dropped Rice, and the NFL has indefinitely suspended him, while the Vikings deactivated Peterson for their game last Sunday.

But the discipline came too late — the damage already done.

The video of Rice was especially damning for the league, since, in July, the league suspended him for two games after the February TMZ video showed him dragging his future wife out of an Atlantic City elevator. The move has been harshly criticized, as having issued a mere two-game suspension, the league seemed to take little action against domestic violence. The video of Rice actually punching the woman only confirmed that the league had failed in its initial judgment.

The league had a chance to set a precedent with Rice back in July by suspending him for at least eight games, maybe more, but it failed to do so. Now it’s paying for it dearly.

The fact that it took a video of the incident taking place to spur commissioner Roger Goodell to action is despicable.

Sure, Rice was innocent until proven guilty, and there was no way to know exactly what transpired in the elevator without seeing the later-released footage. But he dragged his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator. Did Goodell and the rest of the league office think that she had fallen and bumped her head?

The case with Peterson is a bit less cut-and-dried, since there is no video of the alleged incident and the use of corporal punishment varies by culture. I don’t buy either excuse, though, since his son has clear marks noted by a doctor, and there’s no way any 4-year-old deserves being beaten with a stick.

Only in the face of serious media outcry and a statement by the governor of Minnesota decreeing that Peterson shouldn’t be allowed on the field did the Vikings place Peterson on the inactive list, bucking their original plan to let him play in this week’s game.

Like any other American, Peterson deserves due process, but the Vikings and the NFL should hold him to a higher standard and keep him off the field. Peterson is no ordinary citizen. Millions worship him and he is the highest-paid running back in the league.

I must admit that I’m not entirely willing to put my money where my mouth is when it comes to the NFL. I will continue to watch games. But any faith I had in the league and in Commissioner Goodell’s moral compass is gone forever.

A league that will suspend a player for a full season for consuming marijuana but won’t suspend a domestic abuser for more than two games clearly has some reconsidering to do.

There are obviously plenty of men in the NFL who are role models off the field in addition to great players on it, but if I were a parent, I’d make extra sure that my kids knew the difference between the two roles. Players like Peterson and Rice were in powerful positions to impact the thousands of kids who looked up to them. Now they are only examples of what not to do when they step off the playing field.

For a league with an annual revenue estimated at somewhere around $9.5 billion, it’s difficult to understand why the NFL is having such difficulty addressing these issues. I applaud the league for instituting a mandatory Rookie Symposium where all young players learn about what it takes to be successful in the NFL, but as shown by the onslaught of recent issues, it’s clearly not serving its intended purpose.

At this point, firing Goodell is a no-brainer. The league has had issues with players in the past, but the problem never should have gotten to this point. It’s up to the league to take a stand and demand a new commissioner who cares more about shaping players into role models than making money for the league.

As for the players, it’s time that they wake up and realize that millions of people across the world look up to them. That’s a responsibility that needs to be taken more seriously.