IRVING, Texas — It took about two hours on Wednesday morning, in a hotel ballroom, for the NFL’s new personal conduct policy to be presented and ratified at the winter league meetings. This wasn’t a forum for much debate, but rather, a chance for the league to explain the roles everyone will play regarding critical off-field issues.
Shortly after owners from all 32 teams unanimously passed the new measures, The MMQB caught up with Giants co-owner John Mara, who has taken a lead role in addressing issues that have plagued the league. He’s been in meetings at league headquarters with the NFL and the players’ union, and along with the Steelers’ Art Rooney II, he’s overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation into the NFL’s handling of the Ray Rice case. Mara, whose grandfather founded the New York Giants in 1925, has a unique perspective on an NFL season that’s been like no other in league history.
VRENTAS: How do you think the NFL has responded over the last few months to address domestic violence, sexual assault and other off-field issues?
MARA: I think we’re responding the right way. We need to do a better job handling these issues, and I think this is a step in the right direction. We want our standards to be higher, we want there to be more education, and we want the penalties to be tougher, because we want to do what we can to put an end to domestic violence and sexual assault. These are big issues in our society, and we need to do our part to make sure we are doing the right things to educate our own staff, our own players, and to try to eradicate these awful issues.
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VRENTAS: Why has it taken the NFL so long to get its arms around these issues?
MARA: These are complicated issues. If you look at the way the criminal justice system handles issues like this, where the perpetrators often times end up with just a slap on the wrist and no meaningful punishment. Society has been trying to figure out how to deal with these issues for a long time, so to expect that the league would come up with all these brilliant answers in such a short period of time is a little bit unrealistic. But I think we’re on the right track, and I’m very supportive of the new policy, and I think years from now we are going to be a much better league because of it.
VRENTAS: The new personal conduct policy has led to the creation of a new position called the Special Counsel for Investigations and Conduct, which will oversee the NFL’s investigations and issue initial disciplinary findings. This takes away some power and influence from the NFL commissioner, right?
MARA: Correct. The commissioner already has the authority to hear those cases himself, but he also has the authority to appoint a designee, which is going to happen. I think bringing in someone who has some expertise in dealing with issues like this and procedures like this is probably going to help in the long run. [The commissioner] doesn’t need to be involved in these cases to the extent that he’s been involved, at first blush. But I think a lot of us, most of us—all of us—felt that the commissioner having the ultimate authority to mete out discipline is something we’re all supportive of.
VRENTAS: And that hasn’t changed in the new policy—Roger Goodell will rule on disciplinary appeals. Why do you think the commissioner should have the authority of final say?
MARA: Because why would you want to have people who are unfamiliar with our business, and who do not have any vested interest in the business, making those decisions? When that’s happened in other sports, I think you end up seeing a reduction in the discipline that’s imposed and a lowering of the standards. That’s what our concern is. And you know what, other than this year, it’s worked pretty well for us in the past.
VRENTAS: A lot of questions have been raised this year regarding the commissioner’s decision-making and his use of authority.
MARA: No question. No question. But you know what, over the life of the NFL, it’s worked pretty well. Over the last year, granted, it’s had its share of problems. But we still think it’s in the best interest of the sport going forward.
VRENTAS: In overturning the NFL’s indefinite suspension of Ray Rice, Judge Barbara Jones wrote that Roger Goodell’s decision to change Rice’s suspension from two games to indefinite was “arbitrary” and “an abuse of discretion.” How do you view her ruling?
MARA: Well, look at what happened. [Goodell] issued a two-game suspension and received a lot of public criticism for that, and rightfully so, and then upon viewing the tape, he suspended him for the year. If he had done that in the first instance, we probably would not be having this discussion. But that was not the case. He tried to correct what he viewed as a mistake and, as a result, he took some criticism for it. But hopefully, we’ll have better procedures in place going forward.
VRENTAS: Standing here today, what is your confidence in Goodell as commissioner?
MARA: That’s something I’d rather not get into. Just because of this [Mueller] report, and my position on it, I’d rather not comment right now.
VRENTAS: Where do things stand on the Mueller report, and is there a timetable for its completion?
MARA: Not sure yet, but hopefully sooner rather than later.
VRENTAS: How much damage has been done to the NFL this year?
MARA: I think we’ve taken a black eye on this, but I think it’s repairable, if we do the right thing going forward. There’s no question we’ve taken a hit, and to a certain extent, rightfully so. But the net result, in my opinion, is you’ll look at us several years from now, and we’ll be a much better and stronger league because of this criticism. Sometimes it takes events like this, unfortunately, to make you take proper action. And I think we’re on the right track.
VRENTAS: Do you think the new policy will bring about change?
MARA: I think it certainly will. Everybody takes these issues seriously now. We all realize how important an issue domestic violence and sexual assault is in our society. Our team has gone through the educational program, our business staff will go through it next week, and it is something we are trying to emphasize. We all take it seriously, and I think the policy is going to have a huge effect.
VRENTAS: This has probably been a year like none other in your tenure as an owner. What have you learned?
MARA: It has been a year like none other. No question. Particularly the start of the year. But I am trying to take the optimistic view, that because of this, and because of all the criticism that we’ve taken, because of all the attention that has been focused on it, we’re putting a personal conduct policy in effect that is going to make us a better league going forward, and is going to help us deal with issues like domestic violence and sexual assault in a much more effective manner.
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