NFL’s New Domestic Violence Policy: From Bad PR, a Second Try

Roger Goodell
Roger Goodell

The National Football League’s new policy calling for stiff sanctions against players who commit domestic violence marks a big change for the league and for commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell came under criticism for the handling of the Ray Rice incident last season, in which the Baltimore Ravens running back struck his fiancée and knocked her unconscious, in full view of a hotel camera.

Rice was suspended for two games, in accordance with existing NFL policy. Goodell took a lot of heat for that decision. Sports fans and the general public accused him of having his priorities out of whack, considering that stiffer punishment was being enacted on players who were caught smoking weed.

This week, the NFL is attempting to set things straight. Goodell made a public apology and admitted frankly that he and the League’s management were ignorant of the impact of domestic violence and how it impacts players, their families and fans of the sport in general. Going further, Goodell announced that all players and employees of the NFL will be held to strict account regarding issues of domestic violence. A first offense will result in a six-game suspension without pay; a second offense will lead to a lifetime ban from the NFL. Reinstatement is possible after a second offense, leaving open the door for guys who behave themselves for a year or two.

The NFL’s new public stand against domestic violence is a welcome announcement. The League has had more than its fair share of men behaving badly. Even during the off-season, hardly a week goes by without a player landing in the news for a fight, a drug violation, speeding, a weapons charge, what have you. By taking a public stand now about this issue, Goodell acknowledges that the League is not going to continue being tone deaf.

Goodell exhibited a good rule of crisis management by listening to the fans and those around him in the NFL who were upset with the lack of action about domestic violence and creating a proactive policy from a reaction to a public relations crisis. But he also displayed poor skills in waiting until the crisis erupted before taking action. Given the NFL's history with player violence, and the increased focus on and intolerance of domestic abuse, he should have seen this one coming.

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