By Eldon Ham-
(CBS) Roger Goodell should resign as commissioner of the NFL. Not because Ray Rice abused his wife Janay, but because Mr. Goodell did.
Goodell has plenty of shortcomings. Concussions and player safety issues sneaked up on the commissioner with all the grace of an avalanche. He seems afraid to take the lead on the Redskins’ disparaging name issue, and domestic abuse has proved to be a painful mystery to him and the embarrassed NFL.
But, up to now at least, Goodell has been willing to adapt, adjust and steer the league slowly in the right direction. He is also capable of admitting he’s wrong — if only after the whole world knew it first, but he still did it. Compared to whatever stiff, tackle dummy, good-old-boy or bloat whomight succeed the commissioner, Goodell might not be too bad. Except for one thing.
Roger Goodell’s biggest gaffe in the Ray Rice saga isn’t merely the original mistake or maybe even a subsequent cover-up. Rather, it’s how he used — and abused— Janay Rice to perpetuate that cover. The commissioner’s first instinct was to deny and obfuscate, a common tactic in business and politics everywhere. But he finally crossed the line when he took an obvious victim of violent domestic abuse, Janay, and then methodically victimized her all over again.
Goodell violated every standard of care and decency in handling domestic abuse and its victims. First, he interviewed her alongside the perpetrator during his investigation of the elevator beating incident. Was he just ignorant or did he know she’d be intimidated into protecting Ray Rice, the league, herself and the football golden goose?
Unfortunately for Goodell, he’s an astute and accomplished lawyer and can’t really hide behind an ignorance argument. Then the commissioner trotted Janay out to a news conference so that she could apologize for her role in that cowardly crime while seated alongside her abusive husband who, by the way, had just apologized to everyone — from fans to billionaires — everyone except the woman he had pummeled into unconsciousness.
And just what was her crime that begged for an apology? Goodell, this is why you should depart the NFL.
First Ray Rice knocked her cold and seemed unaffected by it, hinting that this may have happened before. Then Goodell used Janay Rice, too, manipulating her for his own stage show. He undoubtedly knew the couple had smoothed things over, so apparently he thought he could take the smooth approach, too, letting Janay herself take the heat as abuse victims often do. After all, she was already feeling like this was her fault, no?
Now she continues to take the heat, lashing out against those who took an interest in both her and domestic abuse in general, even as Goodell hides in plain sight. Her plaintive follow-up “what don’t you all get?” is as ironic as it is disturbing.
The NFL may have manipulated concussion victims, too, but it’s hard to pin that one on any single person. It was the league culture that did everyone in over many decades. But Goodell himself has cruelly victimized Janay Rice all over again, all on his own.
Ray Rice had abused her; the cookie-cutter local prosecutor perpetuated the abuse by charging Janay along with Ray even after watching her get beaten unconscious in the elevator by a powerful NFL athlete; and Goodell keeps using her too, as he parades Janay around to smooth things over. And Janay gets to pay the price.
There are bad people in the world, and there are good people who make mistakes. Perhaps we don’t really know which applies to Ray Rice, and maybe Goodell is one of the usual good guys. But either way, it’s his misuse of Janay Rice that is unjustifiable.
He’s no longer part of the solution but has become part of the problem. It is time for Goodell to do someone else’s bidding.
Eldon Ham is the WSCR sports legal analyst, a professor of Sports, Law & Society at IIT/Chicago-Kent College of Law and the author of numerous sports books, including All the Babe’s Men, the 2014 bronze medal winner in the national IPPY book awards for sports.