On Sunday, as another domestic violence incident gobbled up weekend headlines and raised questions about the NFL’s handling of an issue that reached a crisis point four years ago, Commissioner Roger Goodell headed to East Rutherford, N.J., to watch the New York Giants face the Chicago Bears. He also came under heavy fire from Bill Simmons, one of his most outspoken critics.
Sunday was two days after disturbing video of a February incident involving Kansas City Chiefs star running back Kareem Hunt was published on TMZ, and yet the league had explained only vaguely in a statement how another explosive incident had managed to slip through the cracks for months. Just as with the Ray Rice incident in 2014, it took the publication of a harrowing video by the gossip website to spur action. This time, it was left to the Chiefs to punish the running back with a swift release, while the NFL took the procedural step of placing him on the commissioner’s exempt list — essentially paid leave — pending a long overdue investigation for which the league offered a tepid defense.
“The NFL’s investigation began immediately following the incident in February. Consistent with standard investigatory practices, the NFL continues to pursue a complete understanding of the facts,” the league’s statement said. “The NFL’s ongoing investigation will include further attempts to speak to the complainants involved in the incident. It will include a review of the new information that was made public on Friday — which was not available to the NFL previously — as well as further conversations with all parties involved in the incident.”
Hunt told ESPN’s Lisa Salters that he had spoken to the Chiefs after the February incident, which took place in a hallway outside his Cleveland hotel apartment. The team spoke with the league, and Hunt went on to play for the high-flying Chiefs as if nothing had happened. As ESPN’s Ian O’Connor wrote, the league’s attitude was, “What did they want to know and when did they decide they had no choice but to know more?”
For the league, and Goodell, the episode must have brought back bad memories from the past. The Ray Rice incident happened in February 2014; became a controversy when he was suspended that summer; and became a full-blown crisis as the 2014 season began, when other incidents involving other players surfaced. Simmons called Goodell “a liar” that fall in response to his handling of the domestic violence crisis, leading to a lengthy suspension from ESPN, a broadcast partner of the NFL. Ultimately, Simmons left ESPN, following more high-profile disagreements.
Now at the Ringer, Simmons took aim at Goodell again Monday morning.
“He’s been basically in hiding for about two years. He’s not a public face of the league, at all,” he said on “The Bill Simmons Podcast.” “He shows up at the draft, he hugs the players, he does his whole thing. Like, he pretends he cares about the players. He’ll show up at games, he’ll sit in the suites, he’ll give some very carefully orchestrated interview with somebody, no real hard questions. But I guess my question is, the commissioner is supposed to be the person that kind of sets the tone for the league. He’s the ambassador. He’s the connection between the fans and the players and the owners. He’s the one person who tries to have everybody’s interest at heart.
“And you look at some of the other commissioners; Adam Silver, I think, is the best example of this. He’s done a really good job with the NBA. . . . But Goodell, not only is he not doing his job, he’s trying to keep a low profile? Which is even weirder. Like, at that point, just don’t have the job. Why do you have this job? You offer nothing. What do you bring to the table? Where was he this weekend?”
In the aftermath of the Rice case and others in 2014, the NFL took steps to increase player punishment. That September, Goodell admitted to missteps, took responsibility and said, “The same mistakes can never be repeated.”
And yet . . . here we are again, at least according to the league’s critics.
“I don’t know how he kind of carries himself day-to-day with any sense of professional dignity. He’s so bad at this,” Simmons said of Goodell. “Over and over again they have these issues and these scandals and these problems. They’ll change the rules at the beginning of the season: You can’t hit the quarterback anymore, and then three weeks in they’re like, ‘Ah, yeah, we screwed that up. All right let’s go back to the old rules.’ The concussion, the CTE stuff, the blue tent. All of it rings so hollow.
“My question is, could you do worse? Could you do a worse job? Probably not,” Simmons said. “He doesn’t care about us. He cares about [the owners].”
“A leader should be able to lead even people who disagree with him,” Simmons said later. “Goodell’s not trying to lead anybody anymore. I mean, he’s trying to lead the owners, and that’s it. But he should have been out this weekend and been like, ‘I can’t believe this happened again. This is on us. We put in all these policies.’ They really make you hate yourself. Yet another weekend where we feel bad about ourselves for loving the NFL.”
Amy Trask, the former Raiders CEO who is now a CBS commentator, offered a solution for how the situation should have been handled.
“When you learn of a situation you mobilize immediately,” she told Jim Rome. “You gather appropriate staff, which includes your security personnel. All teams have full-time security personnel. If the incident happened in the location in which the team is based, you reach out to your contacts in local law enforcement, and if there is a hotel involved, at that hotel.
“If, as was the case here, the incident occurs elsewhere [in Cleveland], but there’s a team located there, I would pick up the phone and call my counterpart or the owner of that team and ask that he facilitate an introduction for our staff with local law enforcement and hotel personnel in that city.”
The cellphone and security camera age means that there’s video everywhere, something the NFL has not appeared to fully grasp.
“You’ve got to assume … that there will be a video recording of everything, and I would search like Nancy Drew to find that video recording,” Trask said. “Historically, teams in the league have not been willing to do what outlets like TMZ have been willing to do [paying money] to get video. They feel ethically or otherwise constrained, and it may be time to rethink that — not to do anything illegal, but to do more to gather video.”
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