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The barrage of controversy pelting the NFL right now is enough to give you a concussion. At the front of the storm are the two high-profile domestic abuse cases involving superstar running backs Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, but let's try to get a handle on the entire situation.
Who is in trouble, and why?
Ray Rice, former Baltimore Ravens running back
Rice's domestic violence case was the kickoff to the latest round of NFL bashing. (Remember the debate surrounding that Washington team's name? Seems like a long time ago now). It all started with Rice's slapping and then slugging his then-fiancee and now-wife, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on Feb. 15 — right after Valentine's Day. But the full wave of outrage didn't really start then — video of the incident released Feb. 19 only showed Rice dragging Palmer's apparently semi-conscious body from the elevator after what his lawyer described as a "minor incident." In fact, both he and Palmer were charged with assault, but the case against her was quickly dropped.
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After several people inside and outside the Ravens' organization voiced support for Rice, he was practically forgiven all around, and Palmer married him on March 28. In May, Rice was allowed to enter a "pretrial intervention program," which meant he didn't have to face prosecution as long as he completed a 12-month domestic violence program.
In July, after meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell and other NFL and Ravens brass, Rice was hit with a two-game suspension — drawing howls of outrage over what some saw as a wrist-slap. In late August, the NFL announced a new domestic violence policy after Goodell admitted that he "didn't get it right" with Rice's suspension. A little more than a week later, on Sept. 8, video surfaced of Rice punching his wife with a right hook to the face in the elevator. She hit a railing on the side of the elevator and was knocked out cold as Rice seemed to stand over her until the elevator reached its destination. Outrage over the shocking new video led the Ravens to cut Rice, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
On Sept. 10, the NFL announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller (who works for a law firm that works for the NFL) will lead a probe into how the Rice situation was handled and determine whether NFL officials actually saw the full video before it was made public. The probe is to be overseen by New York Giants co-owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers co-owner Art Rooney.
The NFL Players Association announced Tuesday that it would appeal the indefinite suspension on the grounds that Rice was honest when he told first Goodell about the incident, and the league knew all the facts when it suspended him for two games.
Adrian Peterson, Minnesota Vikings running back
On Sunday, May 18, Adrian Peterson allegedly spanked his son after the boy pushed his brother off a motorcycle video game in Texas. But the All-Pro runner didn't use his hand to administer the discipline — he used an old-school "switch" (a thin branch, reed or piece of wood), which left lacerations on the boy's leg. During a routine visit, a doctor in Minnesota saw the bruises on the boy's legs and determined that they were the result of child abuse, getting the authorities involved.
Peterson testified Aug. 21, in front of a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury, and on Sept. 4 that grand jury decided not to indict him. But a week later, on Sept. 12, the Peterson was indicted on a charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Half an hour later, the Vikings deactivated Peterson ahead of their Week 2 game against the New England Patriots.
The next day, Peterson turned himself in to Montgomery County authorities and was released on $15,000 bond.
Although Peterson didn't play Sunday, the Vikings reinstated him on Monday, with General Manager Rick Spielman telling reporters that the team believed its star running back was just "disciplining a child."
Radisson Hotels suspended its sponsorship of the Vikings that same day, and Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called for Peterson to be suspended the next day. On Wednesday, the team announced that Peterson would be put on the "exempt list" until the case is resolved, which means he is barred from team activities indefinitely but will still get paid.
Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers defensive end
On Tuesday, May 13, Greg Hardy attacked his girlfriend in his Charlotte, North Carolina, apartment by picking her up and throwing her into the "tile tub area in his bathroom," a criminal complaint alleges. He then allegedly pulled her from the tub by her hair, saying he was going to kill her. Then he choked her, threw her on a couch covered with guns and assaulted her until she was able to escape and run to the police, according to the complaint. Hardy was arrested the same day and spent the night in jail before being released the next day on $17,000 bond. He was also ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
On June 15, a judge convicted Hardy of assaulting a female and communicating threats, sentencing him to 18 months' probation and a suspended 60-day jail term. Hardy appealed the misdemeanor conviction on the grounds that he was entitled to a jury trial, which is set for Nov. 17. He has denied all of the charges.
Hardy was never benched by the NFL or the Panthers, and he played in the team's first game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but after the Rice tape emerged and questions were raised over why Hardy appeared to have gotten a pass, he was deactivated for the second-week game against the Detroit Lions. Wednesday, the Panthers announced that Hardy, too, was going be put on the "exempt list."
The new cases are not the most serious to have ever involved an NFL player; former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez is charged in three murders. And then Wednesday night, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was charged with assault on his wife and child. But driven by the visceral reaction many people have had to the hotel elevator video, it is the Rice-Peterson media coverage that has seemed to have caused the NFL to go into damage-control mode.
In addition to the Mueller-led team probing the handling of the Rice investigation, the NFL announced Monday that it was creating a "social responsibility" team of four women. It will be made of one NFL executive, community affairs Vice President Anna Isaacson, and three outsiders: Lisa Friel, former head of sex-crimes prosecution for the Manhattan district attorney; Jane Randel, co-founder of NO MORE, an advocacy group focusing on domestic violence and sexual assault; and Rita Smith, former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"What the NFL needs to do right now is move quickly, to tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," said Darren Marshall, a partner at Chicago-based sports marketing agency rEvolution. "There can't be any more drip drop of information. There has to be 100 percent transparency."
The idea is to stem the tide of negative press and jumping-ship sponsors, not to mention the calls for Goodell to step down from his $44 million-a-year job. But the NFL is a cash cow, and most experts don't believe the current crop of controversies will change much.
Is the female task force enough?
Many say no. The Black Women's Roundtable, which is made up of female leaders who represent black women and girls, said Tuesday that it appreciated the league's decision to bring in domestic violence experts as consultants, but it argued that the "lack of inclusion of women of color, especially black women who are disproportionately impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault; and the fact that over 66% of the NFL players are made up of African-Americans, is unacceptable." The Rev. Jesse Jackson has also criticized the NFL's decision to hire three white female domestic violence experts.
The NFL acknowledged that cultural changes will be necessary, with spokesman Brian McCarthy saying, "To be successful and make a real difference, the entire NFL will be responsible for the development and implementation of education, training and support programs."
What might change?
New conduct rules will likely be announced, but in the long run, little is expected to change. Marshall, of rEvolution, saw few consequences for league brass.
"It's kind of like the nuclear bomb went off in the NFL, or a few bombs, but the epicenter is the players," Marshall said. "Adrian Peterson [and Ray Rice] are radioactive. Then you have team fallout — they're in the blast zone. But by the time you get to the league itself, they're far enough away [that] they're not going to be destroyed by them."
"They'll get some radiation sickness [and] they'll be queasy for a while, but eventually they'll be fine," he said.
Will Goodell go?
He could possibly bow out gracefully, but he's held the job for only eight years, while his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, was in the position for 17.
Statements released this week from companies like Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, McDonald's, Visa and Campbell Soup used words like "disappointed," "concerned" and "closely following" to describe their attitudes on how the NFL is managing the cases of Rice and Peterson.
But none of the sponsors called for Goodell to step down, and the sponsors are what really matters. A few returned jerseys aren't going to slow the NFL's $6 billion revenue stream.
"They're reactive at the moment, instead of getting ahead of the story and controlling it, which is sort of PR 101," Marshall said. "The worst thing that could happen is if there is evidence of senior figures active in a coverup.
"There's going to have to be someone from outside — Condoleezza Rice's name has been mentioned — who's got to come in and steady the ship," he said. "I think even if that happens this great Leviathan will sail on. Maybe they'll be a new captain, but it will go on."