Birch, in a grilling on the “Mike and Mike” show, said the suspension was “appropriate,” given that Rice entered a diversion program, will undergo counseling and will have his record expunged if he completes the sessions. The NFL’s senior vice-president of labor policy and government affairs, Birch delivered an explanation that angered the program’s listeners and exasperated its hosts.
“Listen, I think if you are any player and you think that based on this decision that it’s okay to go out and commit that kind of conduct, I think that is something that I would suggest to you that no player is going to go out and do that,” Birch said. “So in terms of sending a message about what the league stands for, we’ve done that. We can talk about the degree of discipline, we can talk about whether or not third parties need to be involved. I would suggest to you that a third party has been involved in this matter and that was the court that reviewed it, the prosecutor that reviewed it.
“But if it is a question about what the principle of the league is and what standards we stand by, that cannot be questioned. I think it is absolutely clear to all involved that the NFL does not condone domestic violence in any way and will not tolerate it in our league. I don’t know how you can reach a conclusion other than that although I certainly respect the opinion.”
Which isn’t really a clear explanation of why longer suspensions are handed out, for example, for smoking marijuana, using Adderall without permission and for being accused of a crime without an arrest.
Birch went on to say that the punishment involved “multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars [in an additional game paycheck]. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior.”
But his words didn’t wash with listeners, who were calling the show during the broadcast. An animated Mike Greenberg said he was frustrated by Birch’s evasive explanation. “I’m a little taken aback by the conversation, to be honest with you,” he told listeners after the interview. “The reaction is overwhelming and no one seems to think that he did a particularly good job of answering the questions. I do not feel that most people listening to that discussion feel they got an adequate explanation of how they arrived at two games.”
Rice will serve the punishment rather than appeal the decision, allowing his three-day window for an appeal to lapse. The move, though, may have larger implications, setting a precedent for pending high-profile cases involving Josh Gordon, Aldon Smith, Greg Hardy and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay.
Maybe now it’s time for Roger Goodell to speak up.