ON THE NFL | Here is one bit of unsolicited advice for the NFL: Hire Eric H. Holder Jr. and put him in charge of all off-field player discipline.
Do it as soon as possible.
And hope that it helps to restore the public’s trust and confidence in the sport’s ability to deal with players’ off-field misbehavior.
Holder is expected to resign as attorney general of the United States, making him available to help with the NFL’s current rash of off-field incidents. He is to remain at the Department of Justice until his successor is found. But that can be worked around.
One person familiar with the inner workings of the league called it “possible but unlikely” Thursday that Holder could end up working for the NFL in some capacity. Several others within the sport called that prospect intriguing but said they didn’t know if it is a realistic consideration.
Holder undoubtedly will have options for what to do next. But the NFL pays well. Commissioner Roger Goodell was paid $44.2 million in 2012, the last year for which the league’s annual tax filing is available. The NFL certainly could make Holder an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The title — deputy commissioner, assistant commissioner, special assistant to the commissioner, NFL discipline czar — wouldn’t matter. The responsibilities would. Holder would need to have a major say, if not the major say, in determining what the NFL does next to address its issues with player misconduct in the wake of the Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy cases.
The NFL likes to address its problems by bringing in people with what it calls unimpeachable credentials. It appointed Robert S. Mueller III, the former director of the FBI, to investigate its handling of the Rice case. Hiring Holder would be a similar move but more significant if he becomes a key decision-maker at the league’s Park Avenue offices.
Holder has ties to the NFL. He was appointed by Goodell in 2007 to conduct the league’s investigation of Michael Vick’s involvement in a dogfighting operation. Holder formerly worked at the firm Covington & Burling. That’s where Paul Tagliabue worked before becoming Goodell’s predecessor as commissioner. It’s where Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief counsel, worked. It’s where Gregg Levy, the league’s chief outside counsel, works.
Goodell and the league have faced withering criticism in the aftermath of the Rice case, in particular, but also in the Peterson and Hardy cases. The NFL originally suspended Rice for two games following the incident in February in Atlantic City in which Rice struck his fiancée Janay Palmer, who’s now his wife, in a hotel elevator. The league made that suspension indefinite and the Baltimore Ravens cut their ties to Rice after TMZ released violent, graphic video taken from inside the elevator showing Rice hitting his fiancée and knocking her unconscious.
Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings’ standout running back, and Hardy, a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, currently are being paid not to play while on the exempt-commissioner’s permission list. They agreed to be placed on that previously obscure list after overwhelming public opposition surfaced to the prospect of them continuing to play. Peterson was indicted in Texas on charges stemming from him disciplining his 4-year-old son by striking the child with a switch. Hardy is awaiting a jury trial as part of his appeal after being found guilty by a judge of assaulting and threatening his former girlfriend.
There have been calls for Goodell to resign, which he has said he won’t do. The owners of the 32 NFL franchises seem to remain strongly supportive of him and apparently would consider ousting him only if Mueller’s investigation finds him guilty of willful and egregious misconduct, or if sponsors abandon the league in droves and television ratings plummet.
He has announced plans to rework the NFL’s personal conduct policy with input from the players’ union and outside experts. That process is under way. Goodell and a top NFL executive, Troy Vincent, met this week with a group of 11 former players that included Hall of Famer Mike Singletary. Goodell is to meet sometime soon with DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association.
The issues involved are complicated. The league must figure out, for instance, how to balance a player’s right to due process following an arrest but before the legal process plays out with the pressures placed on the NFL and the team involved to act quickly in some instances.
The personal conduct policy, as currently constructed, gives Goodell great leeway in imposing discipline for player misdeeds. Goodell has said he will consider relinquishing some of that power. Given the current lack of public trust in Goodell overseeing player discipline, stepping aside in that area and putting Holder in charge would make sense and might be an avenue by which the NFL could address its problems to the satisfaction of its current critics.