NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was at the Pro Football Hall of Fame today in Canton, Ohio, in his first public appearance since the league suspended Ray Rice two games for knocking out his fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City casino in February. He didn't say much. But in speaking at all, he took the first big step on the NFL's very short road to pretending all this unpleasantness never happened.
Mobbed by reporters, Goodell stood his ground and made it abundantly clear he thought a two-game suspension was just:
Our policy's clear. We have a very firm policy. Domestic violence is unacceptable in the NFL, and there will be consequences for that. Obviously, when we're going through the process of evaluating the issue and whether there will be discipline, you look at all of the facts that are available to us. Law enforcement normally has more, under a normal basis has more information and facts than we have. We'll get as much as we possibly can. And then you also have the opportunity to sit down with the individual and maybe others and determine how that individual is reacting to it.
I think what's important here is that Ray has taken responsibility for this. He's been accountable for his actions. He recognizes he made a horrible mistake, and that is unacceptable by his standards and by our standards, and he's got to work to reestablish himself. And the criminal justice system, as you know, put him in a diversionary program with no discipline, and we felt it's appropriate to have discipline, and to continue to counseling programs, and to continue our education and work.
And I was also very impressed with Ray in the sense that Ray not only is accepting this issue and saying, "I was wrong," but he's saying, "I want to make a powerful difference" in his community. I think you heard from him yesterday. He's a young man who really understands the mistake he made, but he's bound and determined to make a difference.
When asked if prior suspensions had set a precedent, Goodell answered: "It is, in that we have to remain consistent. We can't just make up the discipline. It has to be consistent with other cases, and it was in this matter."
The commissioner said that also he took into account the fact that Rice hadn't been convicted. (He explained away the disparity between Rice's suspension and the six games given to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who'd twice been accused but never convicted of sexual assault: "Ray Rice did not have another incident.) He said the meeting with Rice, Palmer (who is now his wife), and others factored into his decision as well.
Goodell got testy only once, when a reporter brought up Josh Gordon and the harsh punishments meted out to players who get popped smoking weed.
You've got to deal with some facts, OK? Now, when we have a drug program that's collectively bargained, and it has a step process, and it takes four incidents before you actually reach a suspension in a drug-related case. So, you know, you have to respond to facts here.
You know, you have a lot of people voicing their opinions, but I think it's important to understand that this is a young man who made a terrible mistake that's inconsistent with what we're all about, and we've dealt with it in a serious manner, and we're very confident that this young man understands where he is and what he needs to do going forward.