The details, emerging nearly two years into the NFL’s quest to “get it right” on domestic violence, followed the grimly familiar pattern. In several interviews with deputies in King County, Wash., Molly Brown described her relationship with her estranged husband, New York Giants kicker Josh Brown, and the outbursts of violence and intimidation within their marriage. There was, she said, the time he pushed her into a mirror, then threw her on the floor and held her face down into the carpet; the time she said he kicked in a bathroom door, knocking it off its hinges, and then hit her son in the arm; and the times he called her a gold digger.
What followed from the NFL wasn’t too different from what had come before. The NFL issued a punishment—a one-game suspension—and then NFL reporters filled websites and TV air time with the expected questions. Was this enough? What about the six-game minimum that was promised? The narrow focus on suspension length occluded discussion of the far more important and effective ways the NFL can address domestic violence, like making quality counseling available and connecting partners in danger with services in their communities—and this isn’t a coincidence. Punishment, which by its nature involves the NFL not only doing something but being seen to do something, is the only part of its attempts to get it right the league ever talks about in depth. The rest—counseling, support, services—is written off, when it even comes up, as essentially soft and, anyway, protected by confidentiality. Trust us, the league tells the world.
What happened with the Browns, though, offers a glimpse of the type of services and support an NFL player and his family can expect—and little reason to believe the league and those within its orbit should be trusted.
As part of his 2015 divorce, Josh Brown, who had at that point been accused of repeated acts of domestic violence by his wife, agreed to undergo 12 weeks of treatment with an NFL Players Association-approved counselor. But that counselor, Robert W.H. Price, was a sports psychologist who had spent a decade doing pre-draft evaluations for the Giants—the team that employs Brown. Price’s website is filled with discussions about team-building and positive thinking, but nothing about domestic violence. In a letter to Molly Brown’s lawyers, Price described his work as “anger management,” a type of counseling many domestic-violence advocates, including those working on U.S. Justice Department guidelines and those brought in by the NFL, don’t recommend.
I called Price, and while he said he couldn’t speak directly about Brown’s counseling, we did talk broadly about his program. He didn’t see a conflict of interest between his work with the Giants and counseling one of their players (more on that later). I asked him how his program addresses nonphysical elements of domestic violence, especially the relationships to power and control that define it.
“I think people look at it as a gender crime, as abuse of power,” he told me. “But as you are well aware, in any relationship, both players, both people, have power. And how they go about using it or abusing it begets the cycle of abuse. So you have one individual that chooses to use their power in the different way, and that person doesn’t like it so they try to overpower the situation. ... Now there is a power struggle. Both people have power.”
At least he was trying to help. Molly Brown would later tell a deputy and a prosecutor during an extensive interview with them that while she didn’t hear from Josh Brown’s agent after the arrest, she did hear from Josh Brown’s public relations team, who made it clear that she needed to help make the case go away for the sake of protecting her husband’s career—hardly a surprise given the NFL’s one-strike policy. According to a transcript of that meeting provided by the King County Sheriff’s Office, she said that she was told, while still trying to figure out her next step for herself and her children, “You’re gonna tell them that you just, that you didn’t want him arrested and that it was like nothing kind of thing.”
Brown’s case is just one among many. But it does provide insight, finally, into the kind of help the NFL, its union, and others within its orbit offer players and their partners when they are in need. If it isn’t the least they can do, it is, to go by the evidence offered here, the next-worst thing.
Soon after Molly Brown’s second 911 call, she filed for divorce. As part of the divorce process, Josh Brown agreed to start “an anger management program or counseling, approved by the NFL Players Association, with a focus on domestic violence” by the third week of August 2015, according to court records. Molly Brown had custody of their young daughter, as well as her two sons from a previous marriage, and received child and spousal support; the order stated that Brown had to complete counseling in order to be allowed unsupervised visitations with his daughter. (In an asterisked aside, the counseling was described as “phase one, if applicable or twenty-five percent of domestic violence counseling.”)
As of a few months later, Josh Brown had filed several copies of his proposed parenting plan. Molly Brown’s next filings outlined her concerns about this plan, including the work her estranged husband was doing with his NFLPA-approved counselor. She alleged that Robert Price’s counseling program was inadequate because it was designed for substance-abuse problems and “apparently, consists mainly or entirely of Skype sessions,” according to the court records.
Price told me that he does not use Skype because of HIPAA laws. He didn’t comment on the case specifically but said that in general his work is a “combination of in-person visits, of telecommunications, of video conferencing. The way of our wonderful world now.”
This is exhibit D from the court file, showing the treatment plan. Note that at the bottom, the document asserts that one of the 12 sessions will be conducted in person:
Emails provided to the court show Molly Brown’s lawyer writing to Josh Brown’s lawyer on Aug. 5, 2015, with several questions, including some about the focus and nature of his counseling:
Josh Brown’s lawyer wrote back the next day, saying that “many/most” of the sessions were in person.
The federal government considers sending batterers to anger-management classes—as opposed to intervention programs specifically designed to address domestic violence—activity that can “compromise victim safety and recovery,” and treats it as such. For example, a solicitation this year for programs to combat rural sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking says that applicants who send batterers to anger management “may be eliminated from further consideration entirely.”
This should be known to the NFL and the NFLPA. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, which got a splashy NFL donation in 2014, warns against using anger-management courses on its own website. One of the NFL’s consultants, Tony Porter of A Call To Men, said as much in a 2014 interview:
“If a man needs anger management work, that would mean he’s going around beating everyone up. But, if his violence is selective to the person he’s partnered with, he doesn’t need anger management work. He manages his anger very well. He knows who to hit and who NOT to hit,” said Porter.
On Aug. 7, Josh Brown’s lawyer wrote back again, sending along a detailed letter from Robert Price about the Elite Minds program. The letter, according to lawyer Phillip Ornstil, “provides more information regarding the interplay of anger management and domestic violence.” The letter can be read in full here; insights it includes on domestic violence include the following:
- “[Josh] must understand that violence is just one expression of anger.”
- “The problem is that many men do not realize when they are feeling angry. It creeps up on them, and they become overwhelmed by the intensity of their emotional reaction to the situation.”
- “Many men have come into our groups stating that they have to understand why they are feeling angry before they express their feelings. This can be a big mistake. It may take you quite a long time (for some it may take hours, days or even years) before you realize just what it was that you were feeling angry about.”
The letter opens by asserting that Josh Brown is in an anger management program “due to the type of domestic violence that he has perpetrated in the past,” and goes on for a page before drawing a line between anger control and anger management and describing the dynamics of domestic violence and how the Elite Minds program “addresses specifically how thoughts can be reshaped and lead to different consequences.”
Molly Brown’s lawyer, Matthew I. Cooper, wrote back to say that having reviewed the letter, it was unclear whether the program met “the requirements set forth in the court order.”
Aside from the question of whether the Elite Minds program was appropriate for Josh Brown, there’s another issue here: Robert Price has worked for the team that employs Brown before.
That Price has worked for the New York Giants isn’t a secret; it’s right there on his own website. In the press section, he includes a PDF of an NJ.com story from 2010 about all the psychological and personality tests that NFL draft prospects go through. The article is included because it quotes him (emphasis added is mine):
“The psychological and character piece is probably 10 percent of the whole process for a team,” said sports psychology consultant Robert Price, who conducted pre-draft evaluations for the Giants for a decade. “You don’t make it because you do well in an interview. But if you don‟t have a good grade, you will drop off someone‟s draft board pretty quickly.”
Price’s NFL-related work isn’t limited to the Giants; the Baltimore Sun described him as a sports psychologist who works with NFL players in 2013 in a story about the deer-antler spray controversy involving Ray Lewis. (“Price is working with players preparing for the NFL scouting combine and sees firsthand how determined they are to find help others competing for jobs in the league might not have.”) Meanwhile, his LinkedIn page says he’s been an NFLPA consultant since August 2015.
Here is how Price describes his company’s own services on his own website:
Elite Minds, LLC is a sport psychology consulting service that promotes athletes exceeding their potential on and off the field. This is accomplished through proven mental skill techniques that will lead the athlete to more consistent performances even in the face of adversity. We understand how to get the brain and body working together as a team.
As Molly Brown’s lawyer pointed out, not a single page on Elite Minds’s website mentions domestic violence. One headline reads “What Are You Controlling?” It leads not to an article about domestic violence, but to an article Price published at DifferentHunger.com about how to feel in control of your own life. (“Have you ever just felt that your life was running away from you despite your best efforts to hold on? This is the thing that I work on with my clients the most.”)
When I talked to Price about the lack of domestic violence discussion on his website and how all his previous appearances in the media have been on different topics, he pointed out that he was a licensed therapist and said that the NFLPA “certification” mentioned in court documents probably referred to his employment with them as a consultant “based upon my credentials and work history.” Domestic violence, he explained, is a subset of other ills, such as mental health and behavioral ones. “Many variables,” he said, “have to be addressed. That’s why someone who is licensed as a therapist can address many if not all of those needs.” He told me, “Domestic violence is a symptom of other things going on, so when you are working with it or understanding that—any therapist can work with someone. This is a symptom of their behavior.”
As for Price’s program, he pointed out that—as the worksheet entered in court said—the program was “tried and true through SAMHSA.” (That’s the federal agency overseeing substance and mental health issues; it doesn’t oversee domestic violence).
When I asked about potential conflicts of interest, Price said that the NFLPA is separate from the league and is about advocating for the players themselves. He said that when he worked for the Giants, Brown wasn’t on the roster, and that Josh “just came to me as a person.” But he did add that he knew a lot of players, telling me, “You pick a team, I can tell you a player.”
Back in the 1980s, researchers were recommending against using anger management techniques to treat domestic violence, because the two are not the same. Batterers, after all, can be incredibly nice and understanding to everyone else they know while showing anger exclusively toward their intimate partner, demonstrating a level of control that shows their problem isn’t an inability to manage anger. Anger-management treatment can also ignore the many nonviolent ways victims are emotionally abused—the mechanisms of power and control that define domestic violence. As one research paper declared back in 1986:
While anger control may assist some men, we are concerned that it does not really aid many other batterers and may in fact make matters worse for them and their victims. Anger and wife abuse are not necessarily directly related. Therefore men who control their anger are not necessarily less likely to be abusers. They and their wives may think so, become less vigilant, and continue in the cycle of violence. In fact, men and women should be wary of any approach that poses a quick fix or gimmick for solving any deeply embedded social problem like wife abuse. This wariness will not only keep them alert to tendencies toward abuse, but also prompt a commitment to the the long-haul of recovery.
George Atallah, the NFLPA’s assistant executive director of external affairs, said that the union did not directly refer Brown to Price due to any knowledge of an issue; Price was listed as a resource for players. Atallah said the organization is reviewing Price’s relationship with them as a “counselor/resource in our network.”
“We will always take information to make our programs stronger so that we can provide the best resources to our members and their families,” he said.
Whatever one makes of Elite Minds counseling, after the initial back-and forth the issue doesn’t come up again in court records related to the Brown case except for a letter dated Aug. 31, 2015, stating that Josh Brown had completed “nine of twelve sessions of Anger Management and Performance Enhancement Program” and was thus ready to spend time with his child:
Josh Brown’s counseling and its relationship to the league should be understood in the context of the documents that detail why and for how long Molly Brown says she was scared of her estranged husband. Price, the sports psychologist, was dealing with a client who, according to various law enforcement and court records, had what anyone familiar with it would at the least describe as a troubling history.
During her 2015 interviews with King County Sheriff’s Office, Molly Brown detailed her account of the relationship’s violence. She said that there had been more than 20 instances of physical violence in the past; according to one King County Sheriff’s Office form, the Browns had eight prior reported incidents and 20 unreported incidents.
Molly Brown said that her husband was violent after she became pregnant with their daughter, according to KCSO documents. She got a protection order against him in 2013 but it “was later dropped because of the progress they had made in their relationship due to counseling,” one incident report said. Online court records in King County show that Molly Brown petitioned for divorce in 2013, and that the case included a temporary restraining order. The divorce proceedings lasted four months and ended with the restraining order being dismissed.
Years later, in court documents, Molly Brown would say this was the time when Josh Brown worked with Jerry Price, out of Bend, Ore., who ran a program she called “very popular with NFL players.” Her court motion described it this way: “It is based, in part, upon a ‘team’ concept whereby Josh is held accountable to his six ‘A-Team’ members, who review and critique his self reports. They also are supposed to be available when he is in a crisis.”
On Jan. 27, 2014, Molly Brown requested another protection order, online court records show. It was dismissed within weeks, on Feb. 10, records show. She would later tell deputies that a few months after that, her husband pushed her into the large mirror in their bedroom, then threw her on the floor and jumped on top of her, “holding her face down into the carpet,” according to one KCSO incident report.
In February of 2015, Molly Brown told deputies that her husband got in a fight with her son, kicking in the bathroom door, knocking it off the hinges, and then hit her son in the arm. In April, she said, Josh Brown got so mad during their trip to Hawaii he held up his fist like he was going to punch her and said “I want to knock you out so bad,” according to the KCSO incident report. One deputy noted this:
During my interview of Molly, she appeared to be genuinely scared of her husband Joshua. She seemed very embarrassed to tell me the details of her husbands history of abusing her. I asked Molly if she wanted medical aid to come to the scene and look at her wrist. She declined and said “I’m fine.”
It was on May 21, 2015 that Molly Brown called 911. She told the dispatcher that her husband was upset, getting in her son’s face, and “he won’t stop yelling.”
A King County sheriff’s deputy responded and Molly said “she was in fear of Joshua due to his anger,” according to his report. But the deputy wrote that he “could not force [Josh Brown] to leave for the night.” Josh Brown was asked if he was willing to leave his home; he said that he was not. Molly Brown said that she worried if she left “all of her belongings would be thrown out of the house,” according to the KCSO report. The deputy wrote that there wasn’t evidence of a crime, so he took a report, gave Molly Brown some information on domestic violence resources, and left.
Molly Brown called 911 again the next day, May 22, saying she was scared and had locked herself in the bedroom after Josh Brown grabbed her wrist.
When deputies arrived, Molly Brown was still inside the bedroom, according to their incident report. Deputies told Josh Brown they received a report of an argument, and they said Brown reacted by looking confused and shaking his head. Josh Brown told deputies that he and his wife had gotten in an argument over finances, his wife tried to grab the phone while he used a computer, and that he tried to get the phone from her but grabbed her wrist instead. He was it was an accident and “he did not try to injure his wife,” according to the report. He said he was surprised that deputies had been called. He was charged with fourth-degree assault, domestic violence.
Another deputy spoke with Molly Brown. The fight, she said, started when she was in the kitchen making brownies while Josh was on the phone in her office. She heard him talking to their credit card company about some recent charges. After he got off the phone, she said, Josh Brown came into the kitchen and they started arguing about money, the KCSO incident report said.
One deputy wrote: “I do not believe this to have been a ‘put-on’ for show. When speaking with me she would avoid eye-contact and hang her head and look at her hands.”
When Molly Brown applied for divorce, she described the marriage as irretrievably broken. She listed her last date of living with her husband as May 22, 2015, the day she called 911.
In an extensive interview with a sheriff’s deputy, a prosecutor, and an advocate on May 28, 2015, Molly Brown would go on to describe what happened after her husband was arrested. It was then, Molly Brown said, that Pete Merand appeared, according to a transcript of that interview released by KCSO. She described him as a good friend who did public-relations work for her husband, and she said she heard from him soon after Josh Brown’s arrest. She also heard from Scott Whites, a lawyer who worked with her husband but was not his official agent. Whites told her that “the good thing is the report is pretty flimsy so ... they’ll drop it and it’ll get thrown out,” according to the interview transcript.
And he’s like “but you know, have you thought about what you are doing?” And I was like “what, what do you mean ‘what I am doing’?” And he’s like “well” you know, he—I think he basically was like “you—you’re going to pursue this or you know, “press charges,” and I was like “I don’t even know how to answer that question,” like I was still trying to digest everything that went down in the last couple of days. And I said “Scott, are you representing Josh?” And he said “yes, I am.” And then I said “then I think that you need call my attorney.”
It was Merand who tried coaching her, Molly Brown said, telling her, “You’re gonna tell them that you just, that you didn’t want him arrested and that it was like nothing kind of thing.” She said in the transcript that she didn’t want Josh Brown arrested, but that she also felt that now she was being pressured to drop the charges, when all she wanted was for the abuse to stop.
“I didn’t want him arrested but he’s, he’s like continued to do this stuff and I didn’t know what he was going to do.” You know I didn’t think that him grabbing my wrist and was even something that was um, somebody could get into trouble for. Um I just thought that is very normal occurrence between us. Like for him to like grab me or but the way that he came at me, the fact that what had happened the night before, the fact that he, you know, that he came at me in a very physical way and it took like me screaming to get him to let go, I was scared. And you know, I’m sick of being scared.
In the transcript, Molly Brown said that Merand later told her that her husband’s agent was calling him, and that they had to get Josh Brown on a plane back to New York because “we got to save his job and, um, that is our first—that is our top priority.”
And I remember getting really offended. I was like “really, that is his top priority?” Like I was—that actually angered me and I was like of course it is, it’s his job, it’s all that he cares about, you know, I mean that triggered me like, and—and then Pete kept like backing down, like “butter” me up kind of you know?
Pete Merand and Scott Whites appear to be Peter Moran and Scott Weitz of Rezin Sports Marketing. They list Josh Brown as a client on their website. I emailed and called them last week asking for comment; I did not hear back.
The only significant mention of the Giants in the interview transcript came when she told investigators that at one point, a few years ago, the people they were renting an apartment from in New Jersey tried to blackmail them. (She didn’t say specifically over what, but the comment came while recounting times she had called police to report violence.) She told the interviewer, “They said that they were going to go to the media and so we had to hand it over to the Giants attorneys.” The team’s attorneys, she said in the transcript, “did what they needed to do to make the guy go away.”
Giants co-owner John Mara, when asked about that by reporters, called it “completely ridiculous” and said it “absolutely did not” happen. The team later walked back that denial. Here’s how NJ Advanced Media described it:
The Giants later clarified the organization advised Brown and referred him to an attorney when he had a dispute with his landlord. Brown “felt threatened by the landlord or her boyfriend,” the team said, adding there was never any blackmail involved.
Five days after her husband’s arrest, on May 27, Molly Brown got a temporary order for protection, according to court records, barring Josh Brown from any contact with her or the children “subject to any court-ordered visitation.” He also had to leave the home. A few days after that, she filed for divorce. From that point on, the records released by deputies and prosecutors nearly end, but the divorce moved ahead without showing any hesitancy from Molly Brown. As part of the divorce proceedings, a judge signed off on a temporary restraining order, covering both parents. It listed the many ways neither Brown was to interfere the other: no tampering with each other’s money, no destroying each other’s property, and no “destroying or alienating the community credit of the parties.”
Before the temporary restraining order was finalized, Josh Brown filed a response with the court denying he ever struck his wife and saying, “Molly has abused me, both physically and verbally, though never in front of our daughter.” Knowing that, and also having all the evidence Molly Brown presented (as well as several pieces filed under seal), the court’s temporary restraining order said Josh Brown was “enjoined from disturbing the peace” of Molly Brown or any of her children, including their daughter. He was not to come within 500 feet of Molly Brown, her home, her workplace, or the children’s schools, and he was not to talk about Molly Brown or their daughter when making public appearances. He had to give up his firearms and any weapons. Both parties were to limit communication to coordinating visitation. Molly Brown’s request for child support as well as spousal support were granted.
The order was dated July 24, 2015. Molly Brown called authorities two days later, saying Brown had violated it by driving by their home as she was pulling out of the driveway. She added that he had been texting the babysitter, asking her questions, according to the incident report. Brown was charged with misdemeanor violation of a protective order; that charge was dropped when prosecutors passed on the domestic-violence case, a spokesman for the King County Prosecuting Attorney Office said.
There are moments in the public record that present a different version of Josh Brown. Two different people who have supervised Josh Brown’s time with his daughter submit declarations to the court about his parenting skills. (One is from a friend he met through work feeding the homeless, the other is from Peter Moran.) He takes a parenting class. Over time, he is granted more visits with his daughter. He writes in his declaration in support of a parenting plan about reading books with her and taking her to the zoo “because she wants to be a veterinarian.” He offers this under the section titled “other information for the court to consider”:
In her May 28 interview with authorities, Molly Brown talks about this conflict. After describing years of abuse by her husband, she says that at one point she felt sad for her daughter because “that is her daddy and you know no kid wants to be away from their parents.” The divorce isn’t final, yet, according to court records, but last month both parties gave notice to cancel their trial date because “all claims against all parties in this action have been resolved.”
Prosecutors did not bring charges against Brown. When I asked for any documents that outlined why, King County prosecutors responded with a copy of a “request for additional investigation” dated May 24, 2016, a full year since the call to 911. It describes Molly Brown’s cooperation with authorities as “tumultuous.” Here is the memo, in full:
I know you are very familiar with this case, so I will not waste your time with a detailed recitation of the facts of the involved incidents. In short, let me just say that we had a number of meetings with the victim to get more information about the alleged incidents and other incidents that would have corroborating evidence that we could use at trial to combat some of the anticipated defense strategies.
During our discussions, the victim mentioned a number of individuals who witnessed parts of or entire incidents of abuse between the victim and suspect. As you know, the nature of the anticipated testimony from these individuals is such that a jury would have extreme difficulty finding the defendant guilty unless we were able to produce these witnesses at trial. Some of these witnesses include the victim’s sons, her parents, and several friends/neighbors who the victim told us she spoke with/ran to after incidents of violence between them. These are not people that could be readily explained as unavailable if they did not testify. Absent statements from them, we are unable to assess the strength of the victim’s testimony and whether it would be sufficient to carry our burden of proof at trial.
I am aware (because you and I have talked about it) that the victim’s level of cooperation with you and law enforcement has been tumultuous because of her ongoing relationship and interactions with the suspect, and I know it has been very challenging to obtain the requested information. I trust you understand that this MI is not a reflection on you, but only on the state of the case as it currently stands.
Absent further evidence/testimony/statements from the above listed individuals (at a minimum—there may be others that would also be relevant that are brought to light as a result), the State is unable to file these charges. If the victim does not wish to continue prosecution, or if she declines to assist you in obtaining and providing access to these witnesses, then you may consider this a decline of formal charges in these cases.
What prosecutors don’t address is that Molly Brown said she didn’t want her husband arrested. She called 911 because she wanted help feeling safe again—and that was it. It’s often assumed that victims of violence call police because they want an arrest made, but in many cases they call because in that moment law enforcement is the only option to make the violence stop. When she was asked explicitly in her May 28 interview if she wanted Josh Brown arrested, Molly Brown said no, according to the transcript.
No. I did—I didn’t because I just wanted him to leave the house because he was scaring me and I knew that his temper was—I knew that his temper was not dying down and it was just a bad decision to let him come back ...
As the NFL—the ultimate arbiter of all NFL narratives—tells it, this is where things end. Whatever help the NFLPA gave Josh Brown is what it is. Molly Brown refused to cooperate. The NFL machinery did everything it could, but between Josh Brown’s right to union representation and Molly Brown’s noncooperation, what’s a sports league to do? The NFL statement explaining the one-game suspension for Brown is a masterwork of blame-passing. It calls out Molly Brown for not cooperating, law enforcement for not helping, and even prosecutors for not doing them any favors. It insists the league was “limited in our ability to investigate these allegations” after Molly Brown declined to talk with them, ignoring the hundreds of pieces of paper that already document the history of violence between Molly and Josh Brown.
What’s missing from the statement—its fatal flaw—is everything happening in the world beyond the NFL. The Browns’ divorce is being finalized. Molly Brown has been awarded spousal and child support (possibly made harder to pay by the money her estranged husband’s suspension cost him). She has custody of their daughter.
This is not a perfect ending, or even necessarily a happy one, but while divorce is painful, Molly Brown appears to have started the process of breaking the cycle of violence. She got out. And that had nothing to do with whether the NFL suspended her estranged husband for one game or four games or six games or until eternity.
Josh Brown’s lawyer didn’t return my call or email, but Molly Brown’s lawyer did. When I asked him about the people pointing to her and her non-cooperation, Matthew I. Cooper said he couldn’t speak to the specifics of the case, but he did offer another set of circumstances. He spoke again about Ray and Janay Rice and how they were engaged to be married and had plans for their future that changed when Rice cold-cocked her in an elevator. In what followed, he said, Janay Rice was victimized twice: first by her future husband, and again when she was forced to help the NFL punish him (and her as well, since any lost income affected them both).
“I’m not relating this at all to my case, where I represent Molly Brown. I’m talking about Ray Rice’s case only,” he said. “But it is an example, a good example, of how the spouses and children are made victims if there is domestic violence going on. We know that in other cases, they just can’t talk. There’s too much money at stake.
“That’s the way the system is now. I don’t know how it can change to be made better. I’m not paid to think about that. Maybe Roger Goodell and all the women and men he has working with him can come up with something different. But the way it is right now, it’s just unfair to the spouses and their kids.”
The entire purpose of zero-tolerance policies is to remove any input from anyone, even victims. The theory is that this makes for a cleaner sort of justice. In practice, it can work differently. As Leigh Goodmark, a law professor at the University of Maryland who has studied domestic violence and spoken out against zero-tolerance policies, suggested to me, Molly Brown might actually have found a way to give her input—by not cooperating with the NFL.
If so, this would be perfectly fair and reasonable. No one knows her husband and their families and the interests of all involved as well as she does; she presumably knows what’s best for them.
For what’s best to be nothing, though, puts the lie to the convenient fiction of the NFL as a shining city on a hill populated by players upholding the high standards of their employers, in which those who fail to meet those prevailing standards are punished and those who aren’t, and those who do the punishing, can be presumed to be righteous. For the sake of marketing—and make no mistake, this is about marketing—the NFL must push back against any person who stands in the way of upholding this image, even if that person is the victim of domestic violence.
“The NFL, by doing the kind of enforcement that the NFL is doing and by minimizing claims like Molly Brown’s because she doesn’t want to cooperate, does more damage than if they did nothing at all,” Goodmark said. “When you choose not to go through anything, the NFL can say it’s not credible. It’s not worthy of punishment. You are not credible.”
There are alternative histories of the Brown family’s dealings with the NFL. Maybe the league decides that it has no competence or mandate to deal with the issue and stays out of the matter entirely; maybe it consults with Molly Brown and then metes out a verdict based on her input; maybe it decides to follow the advice of one of its own, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay (whose mother was killed by his stepfather), and prioritizes helping victims and prevention over the expansion of its own shadow judiciary. Or it could be that the league listens to the former NFL wives who say that rehabilitation, not punishment, needs to the focus. Each of these would in its own way require taking a hit in the public-relations department, though—perhaps the one outcome considered truly unacceptable. Punishment makes for good PR, and makes the league look strong. Punishment can even feel good, like justice achieved. It gives sports fans and media members clean hands, the ability to root and cheer and cover the sport with clean consciences. Everyone wins—except possibly the victims themselves.
What did Molly Brown get from the NFL? It’s hard to say. Her estranged husband’s camp and team by all accounts made clear to her that his ability to take the field would take priority over all; the union gave him a counselor who doesn’t grasp the idea of domestic violence as a form of gender violence; the league decided to dock the pay he will use to pay for child support, then blamed her for their inability to dock his pay more; and no one had to work against their own interest for a moment. For her part, Molly Brown got out. It wasn’t because of the NFL, though; it was despite it.