To The Editor:

Dear Mr. Goodell,

You’ve lost all credibility.

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Ray Rice beat up his fiancé Janay Palmer in February of this year in an elevator in a since-closed Atlantic City casino.  He was later arrested for the assault, after a video showing him pulling her lifeless body out of the elevator was released and went viral on the net.

You decided as Commissioner of the NFL that beating up a woman is a punishable act and suspended Mr. Rice for two in-season NFL games.

Then for no logical reason, earlier this week you changed Mr. Rice’s suspension from two games to “indefinite.”   Because no new facts have come to light since February, one is left to wonder:  why the dramatic increase in punishment?

Perhaps the change of sentence was a result of the new NFL policy on domestic violence announced by you at your August 28, 2014 press conference.  You said then that you "didn't get it right" when you gave Rice the two-game time out, noting how serious domestic violence is and how the NFL won’t stand for it.  Going forward, you continued, NFL players who commit acts of domestic violence will be subject to a six-week suspension for a first offense and permanent banishment from the league for a second offense.  You provided the media with great sound bites, but if you meant what you said you’d have changed Rice’s suspension on August 28th from two games to six.  Having failed to do that, the press conference provides little insight into your current thinking.

A cursory analysis might conclude that the new punishment is a response to the video released by TMZ a few days ago that shows the brutality of Rice’s fist striking his victim’s face.  But we both know that’s not true.  The new video provided us with no new information.   It’s irrelevant.  Everything we know now about the incident we knew in February.

So again I wonder:  how did you go from two games to indefinite?  Why’d you skip the six-game penalty you’d announced just weeks ago for this infraction?

The answer, of course, is greed.  In deciding Mr. Rice’s fate you looked solely at dollars and cents.  The depravity of the act and the appropriateness of the consequences were the result of a risk/benefit analysis and not made with reference to good and evil, right or wrong, and punishment commensurate with the bad deed.

Your job is to grow and protect the NFL’s revenue flow.  For doing so you make more money in a year than most Americans make in a lifetime. The press reports that NFL team owners paid you more than $44,000,000 last year. 

When Mr. Rice’s predicament came to your attention, your response was to decide how much of a penalty could you meter out to Mr. Rice while doing the least damage to the revenue flow you’re paid so handsomely to protect.  Your answer was two games, and that’s what you went with.

Soon you realized, however, that the backlash surrounding Mr. Rice’s slap on the wrist consequence might indeed cost the league more than you’d first calculated.  Many people found your response inappropriate, insulting and insensitive.  The media storm that ensued made that sentiment very clear to your advertisers who, of course, ultimately pay your compensation.

Facing an unanticipated revenue hit, you felt compelled to act.  Your response was clever:  set a stiffer penalty policy for future but don’t mess with Rice’s two week suspension.  The league would look like it really cares and Mr. Rice, a very popular figure in your league, would be back on the field well before the end of September.

It looked like your damage control maneuver was going to work like a charm but then KABAM!  A video of “the punch” was released and, once again, Rice’s two-game suspension was the subject of controversy and media backlash.   

So you “re-punished” him for the crime for which he’d already been punished.

Your credibility is shot, but not to worry, you’ll do just fine.  You’re a very wealthy man and, like you, NFL franchise owners look to balance sheets rather than right or wrong in making decisions.  You’ve helped make a cohort of rich people even wealthier. [I can’t believe you’re now looking to entertainers to pay the league to perform at the Super Bowl rather than vice versa.]  I think you’ll find that they, like you, will look first to protect their incomes and, as a result, your job will be safe.

It’s often debated whether a sports league should get involved in disciplining a player for actions taken outside of the scope of the athlete’s job.  The justification for doing so generally rests on the premise that athletes are role models in our society.  Because our young look to them for good behavior, the league should indeed take a part in regulating their off-the-field conduct.

I wonder what would happen if, instead of athletes being role models for our youth, we instead looked to people like you to be our role models.  If that were the case I think you would be facing the consequences equally as severe as those now faced by Mr. Rice. 

An admirable role model would have crafted with care a quick and firm response to Mr. Rice’s conduct.  The focus would have been on the seriousness of the offense instead of the financial impact the sentence would have on the league.  Had you dealt with this matter in this way, you would have only had to act once.  You and your league would be held in high esteem.  Your greed might very well still exist, but this incident wouldn’t provide a window into it. 

I’m not sure you will be able to regain credibility outside of the NFL.  But for others in your shoes or perhaps to your successor, I have some simple suggestions.

As a business manager myself, I share with those under my supervision only one hard and fast rule of conduct:  don’t lie.  It’s simple and easy to follow.  And the rule applies equally to anyone in our organization.  I’ve had a lot of experience in business and this simple rule has served me (and my bosses) well.

If you demand that your players live up to a standard of conduct, I urge you to apply the same standard to your conduct and the conduct of your colleagues.  If you demand that athletes conduct themselves as people of character, you must do so as well.  If you’re going to look at them as role models, you must recognize that it’s only fair to expect from them no more than you expect from yourself.

I think you’ll find that conducting yourself this way will in the long run not only help with your credibility, it also will help you achieve your financial goals.  Nobody wants to work for or do business with a liar or person of low character.  And equally if not more important, living life in this manner will make it much easier to sleep at night and wake up and face your children each day.  After all, they likely do look up to you as a role model.


Evan Lerner