Welcome to Week Under Review where we search for silver linings in an increasingly clouded on-field product, but first a realization about the Josh Brown debacle…
Last week, the BBC asked NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, while on a promotional media tour in London last week, about the NFL’s controversial handling of the Josh Brown domestic violence situation. Goodell gave this feeble attempt at an explanation:
“I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions. But those are things that we have to do. I think it’s a lot deeper and a lot more complicated than it appears, but it gets a lot of focus.”
The commissioner blindly presenting himself as some kind of moral visionary worthy of our inherent trust goes hand-in-hand with the league’s lack of fortitude in enforcing its own policy. The NFL can no longer mask itself in the “it’s too complex for you to understand” narrative. The math is simple. The personal conduct policy calls for a player to be suspended a baseline six-games for a first-time (that they know of) domestic violence incident. Brown was suspended just one game. Since documents of Brown’s admission have been made public, the league must tack on at least five games, and possibly more due to aggravating circumstances.
What has also become abundantly clear is that the Giants must be subject to discipline for their role in Brown’s case. Last Thursday, Giants co-owner John Mara told Mike Francesa that Brown had admitted to the team that he had abused his wife, Molly, in the past. (Mara disgustingly added that the Giants only knew of the incident—not the extent—as if some extent of abuse is acceptable.)
The franchise and the league were both aware of an incident at the 2016 Pro Bowl in which security guards had to move Molly to another room to protect her from her husband. But even that incident right there should warrant harsh punishment.
The NFL revamped its domestic violence policy two years ago in the wake of Ray Rice’s domestic violence case—yet another bungled incident. The baseline suspension was listed at six games for a first offense, and the determination of whether that number dips or increases hinges on league investigations.
Because the NFL cannot suddenly morph into a legislative body or police force at its whim, it has no subpoena power. So conducting a thorough investigation and achieving a fair outcome is entirely dependent on extracting voluntary information from the parties involved. Victims and their abusers may not be forthcoming for reasons that the NFL did not seem to fully grasp when announcing its policy. But the league should unquestionably be able to rely on their owners to be helpful and share pertinent information. That does not seem to have happened in this case.
The league began investigating Brown after his arrest in May 2015. His one-game suspension was announced in August 2016. While it is unclear when Brown disclosed information about abusing his wife to the team, Mara admits to being abreast of the Pro Bowl incident, which occurred right in the midst of the investigation. The team should have told the league immediately, and the punishment should have been both expedited and severe.
Now, the NFL is not exactly known for its investigative tenacity. A King County sheriff mocked the league last week, saying the NFL’s investigator requested documents from Brown’s case using a comcast.net address and never disclosed his affiliation. Even so, it is almost impossible to believe that the NFL would have neglected to ask Mara what he knew. Mara’s admission of knowledge is a huge deal—especially considering the severity of this issue and the fact that he disregarded a policy that owners and players agreed to enact—and that should lead to ramifications.
If the Patriots were fined $1 million and stripped of a first- and fourth-round draft pick for potentially deflating footballs, how can the Giants, who explicitly kept an abuser on its roster and withheld information from the league, not receive an at least equally harsh penalty?
Is that also too complicated for a real explanation? It shouldn’t be.
Other thoughts from NFL’s Week 7…
Annie Apple is a hero
When Annie told me that she felt empowered to write a column expanding on her tweets blasting Mara for his insensitive comments on DV, I braced myself for emotional copy. I knew snippets about her difficult past but was fuzzy on the details. What she produced was one of the most haunting, raw and inspiring narratives about an experience I can remember. I cried. Then I read it to my husband, and he cried.
I hope Annie understands the wide-reaching impact of her piece on victims looking for comfort, would-be victims who may be compelled to seek help before its too late, on men who may no longer be bystanders in dangerous situations, on everyone. Kudos to Annie, and if you haven’t read her piece, please do so.
The real ratings buster
Transitioning to far less important news, NFL ratings are down 11% as of two weeks ago. Our own Andrew Perloff ranked ten reasons the ratings are down with the election as top culprit, while the lack of star players was second. I disagree with this order—to me, the overriding reason is that the following question doesn’t have an obvious answer: Other than Tom Brady, which quarterback will attract a heavy national audience?
I believe the answer is no one. Aaron Rodgers has been in decline for a year. Andrew Luck is no longer the generational quarterback here to fill the void. The Matts—Ryan and Stafford—have been too inconsistent in their careers to draw a non-local-market audience. Cam Newton has either been concussed or ineffective. Dak Prescott is not yet a household name, and Ezekiel Elliott and that line are the real offensive stars for Dallas. Russell Wilson hasn’t thrown a touchdown in three weeks. And the revival of Colin Kaepernick isn’t exactly going well.
Football nerds are intrigued by slow, defensive battles like the 6–6 tie we witnessed in Arizona last night. But that’s a niche group that is not to going to correspond to a ratings boom. The general population wants high scoring and quarterbacks to wow them every week. We don’t yet have that in 2016, and it’s a huge problem.
We need bodies!
SI’s Chris Burke made a smart suggestion during his Week 7 Facebook Live. If you haven’t noticed, the busiest NFL employees are the medical staffs. Injuries and schematic mismatches are starting to define this season, and I think the league will eventually benefit from an overall increase in roster size. But for now, as Burke suggested, it would be incredibly helpful to expand the number of players allow to suit up for a game from 46 to 53. Teams need more bodies to compensate for limited practice and off-season acclimation.
Running back revelry
While quarterbacks, offensive lines, pass rushing, secondaries, coaching and kicking all are in decline, running backs have made a roaring comeback. Ezekiel Elliott is on pace to rush for 1875 yards, which would break the rookie rushing record. David Johnson, LaGarrette Blount and Melvin Gordon all have 8 rushing touchdowns. At 33 years old, Frank Gore is still effective. (Checking off my one obligatory Gore mention per column.)
Add Jay Ajayi to the mix. Ajayi, who has rushed for over 200 yards in back-to-back games, has quickly established himself as Miami’s biggest playmaker. So explosive and versatile, Ajayi is a pleasure to watch. So is the entire running back position which has stars.