Much of the media focus has been on Ray Rice, especially since new video evidence has emerged depicting the athlete striking his wife in an Atlantic City, New Jersey elevator. Immediately following that incident, a petition urging NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to implement stricter policies regarding domestic violence and sexual assault gained tens of thousands of signatures.
Today, Goodell issued a statement outlining the NFL’s revision of its personal conduct policy, indicating that a first assault, domestic violence, sexual assault, or battery charge will result in suspension without pay for six games. Following a second offense, a player will be suspended for at least a year. The Baltimore Ravens also dropped Ray Rice from the team today, making him available in the free agency market. The NFL subsequently suspended the running back indefinitely.
Goodell’s new policy is long overdue, but it is a reactionary decision based on input from an angry public. It shouldn’t have taken public criticism of his initial punishment for him to rework the league’s policies. Good leaders respond to public input in an appropriate manner, but great leaders don’t make decisions that elicit such angry backlash in the first place.
The NFL’s leadership contrasts with that of the NBA, which has taken a progressive stance under new commissioner Adam Silver. Four days after leaked recordings of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling revealed his insensitive racial remarks, confirming decades of complaints and suspicions regarding his antiquated worldview, Silver banned Sterling from the NBA for life and fined him $2.5 million. The decisive action was precisely what the public wanted, and Silver wasted no time in carrying out his punishment.
Silver, like Goodell, will inevitably face tough disciplinary decisions as he continues his leadership role. Last season, Boston Celtics power forward Jared Sullinger was charged with domestic violence, and received a suspension of only one game from his team rather than the league itself. Players such as DeAndre Liggins and Dante Cunningham both faced domestic violence charges that were ultimately dropped. Strict discipline can be tricky to enforce in cases such as these, but when evidence emerges there must be policies in place to ensure that the conduct of players is handled properly.
Despite the NFL’s misstep in beginning the 2014-15 season, Goodell has been known for his relatively hardline stance on conduct issues. His decision to revamp the league’s domestic violence policies may have been delayed, but at least it was done. Moving forward, professional leagues should take note that the public demands fair yet quick decisions when it comes to discipline for off-field conduct.