In the span of 48 hours, Roger Goodell went from one of the most powerful men in professional sports to one of the most embattled executives in America, to the point where not even a Wake Forest High football practice was a safe haven.
On any other occasion, an NFL commissioner’s visit to a high school practice would be cause for celebration. Two days after video surfaced showing NFL running back Ray Rice knocking out Janay Palmer, now his wife, inside an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator in February, Goodell arrived on the practice field in the midst of a personal and professional public relations meltdown that led to at least one television news helicopter swirling overhead.
Goodell already was forced to extend Rice’s suspension from a paltry two games to indefinite after video of the attack was made public Monday by the website TMZ. (Rice also was released by the Baltimore Ravens.) Goodell’s position only got more tenuous Wednesday.
Moments after he finished up at Wake Forest, The Associated Press reported a New Jersey law enforcement official said he had given an NFL executive the elevator video in April. Goodell reiterated earlier Wednesday he did not see the video until Monday, and a league spokesman told the AP the NFL had no knowledge it received the tape.
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Meanwhile, 12 members of the House Judiciary Committee sent Goodell a letter demanding transparency in the NFL’s handling of the Rice incident and domestic violence in general – several players have pending cases, including Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy – and the president of the National Organization for Women called for Goodell’s resignation.
In other words, a tough day on the job, even if much of the pain is self-inflicted. Goodell’s handling of the Rice incident was flawed from the beginning, and he admitted as much when handing down the league’s new guidelines for addressing domestic violence. He’s facing the consequences now.
“I feel the weight of the public every day,” Goodell said. “I have to go earn my job every day. I have to continue to earn the trust. When you disappoint people, you have to figure out how to make sure you do it right the next time. I feel that weight. I don’t feel it any more than I do any other day.”
Yet there remain too many questions without answers, from whether the NFL really did have access to the elevator tape to why so many NFL players continue to commit violent acts against women.
That includes Hardy, who faces a jury trial on charges he assaulted his then-girlfriend, and San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald, who was arrested 10 days ago. Goodell said both players would be held to the new domestic violence policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for a first offense and an indefinite suspension of at least one year for a second.
“It’s very important to make sure we have all the facts and to make sure law enforcement has the opportunity to do what they need to do,” Goodell said. “But then we have to make sure whatever action that we should take at the appropriate time, we’re in position to do.”
That was the unavoidable backdrop Wednesday as Goodell, dressed in a white golf shirt, tan jeans and a blue Wake Forest visor, met with parents, watched practice and addressed the team.
“You guys watch how we play,” Goodell told the players as they kneeled in front of him. “You probably emulate us.”
That isn’t just limited to safe tackling. It extends to violence against women as well, and when young players see the NFL take a tougher stand against marijuana than it did against Rice dragging his then-fiancée unconscious from an elevator, that message gets through, intended or otherwise.