Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, and the NFL’s accountability problem

Numerous critics are calling for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down in the wake of what’s being viewed as the gross mishandling of the Ray Rice abuse case. Will he?

If an company has an image problem that its customers don’t seem to really care about, does the problem actually exist?

The NFL season kicked off this past weekend, and on Monday the league reached the apex of one of its most shameful chapters since its inception.

TMZ released video Monday of Ray Rice, the star running back for the Baltimore Ravens, punching his then-fiancée and now wife Janay Palmer in the face last February in a casino elevator. Other videos from outside the elevator have been floating around the Web for months.

Rice’s contract with the Ravens was terminated and he’s been suspended by the NFL indefinitely. It’s baffling that, in the six weeks since learning about the NFL suspending Rice for two games, the team chose not to impose its own punishment until now.

But the most shameful part is this: In July, before the newest video surfaced, Rice was initially suspended for two games and fined the amount he would make for playing in a third. That was based on video that the league had seen of Rice dragging Palmer from the elevator after he punched her. To put this in perspective, there are players with non-violent marijuana offenses who are suspended “indefinitely” from the league.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted last month in a memo to teams that he “didn’t get it right,” and made sweeping changes to the way the NFL will handle domestic violence cases moving forward.

To say the NFL “got it wrong” is an egregious understatement. To say it was negligent, egregiously lax and enabling in all of it would be far more accurate.

One of the biggest problems I have with professional and collegiate sports is that fans have become way too accustomed to their leagues being run by terrible, corrupt overlords. Since the late 1990s, Major League Baseball has botched—and likely continues to botch—the issue of performance-enhancing drugs to a point where absolutely nothing is sacred in America’s pastime. The NCAA makes billions off the sweat equity of student athletes whom it claims should be happy to be getting a free education.

Why would a Chicago Bears fan, for example, stop supporting his or her team because Goodell is so terribly incompetent? Fans are going to keep buying tickets no matter how poorly and immorally these leagues are run. There’s absolutely nothing a fan can do (or the vast majority are willing to do) in order for justice to be served here.

Fans are the best and worst part of sports. We love our teams despite their mismanagement. We can hate the person wearing our team’s uniform, but it doesn’t change our opinion of the team. In business, leaders are held accountable by a board of directors. Goodell has yet to be held accountable for any of his blunders.

If you agree with Keith Olbermann, proverbial heads should roll for this, including that of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who needs to step down from his $44 million a year job because of this and so many other stunningly mishandled cases. NFL fans know them by shorthand: Spygate, the 2011 lockout, Bountygate, and the 2012 referee lockout (which led to the “Fail Mary“).

If he were running for president, Goodell wouldn’t make it out of the debates. He’d make Rick Perry’s 2012 run look like the gold standard of presidential campaigns.

And yet, nothing. It’s more than probable that Goodell won’t lose his job over this. And the NFL will make more money than it did last year.

In the coming days, there will be much debate, speculation and hopefully some actual reporting around whether or not the NFL saw the second tape. The league says it did not see the second tape, and made its decision based on its viewing of the first tape alone.

That’s nowhere near the full story. And even if it were, what organization makes a decision of this weight and magnitude without having all of the facts?

Clearly one that is grossly mismanaged.

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