This past week’s Thursday night football game featured one of the greatest rivalries in sports: the Baltimore Ravens versus the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, this time the media’s focus was less on the game and more on the release of the elevator video showing former Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his now-wife, Janay Palmer.
Initially, Rice received just a two-game suspension from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. After the full video of Rice’s assault on his then-fiance in an Atlantic City, N.J. casino surfaced, the Ravens cut Rice from their roster, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.
Goodell’s tenure as NFL commissioner began in 2006, succeeding Georgetown graduate Paul Tagliabue (CAS ’62). Throughout his eight years at the helm of the most profitable sports league in the world, Goodell has dealt with many major issues, such as Spygate, the bounty scandal and the increase in suspensions due to steroids and amphetamines.
Critics — such as ESPN anchor Keith Olbermann, who called Goodell an “enabler of men who beat women” on air after Rice’s two-game suspension was announced — have long rebuked the commissioner for giving longer suspensions to players who perform illegal in-game hits or use recreational drugs than those who are convicted of some form of domestic violence.
Rice is not the only blight on the NFL this year, as the league has seen several other players indicted on domestic violence charges. Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was held out of Sunday’s game by Coach Ron Rivera following his summer indictment on domestic violence charges after playing in Week 1. Just this week, Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson was suspended by the NFL after he was indicted on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child after beating his 4-year-old son as a disciplinary measure.
The list of violent acts is slowly adding to Goodell’s perceived lack of appropriate action, and the Ray Rice situation has necessitated a private investigation of the commissioner. Leading the investigation is Robert Mueller, who worked as Georgetown’s Executive-in-Residence from September 2013 until summer 2014.
Mueller, who previously worked as director of the FBI for 12 years, provided “faculty, students and university leaders with insights and perspectives based on his lengthy career in public service,” according to the official Georgetown website. Mueller was unavailable for comment.
All these player issues have distracted fans from the main NFL scandal this offseason: The continued use of the Redskins’ moniker for the Washington football team. Many Native Americans and non-Native Americans are still in protest of Owner Dan Snyder’s insensitive team name. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program put on an hour-long show to discuss the issues and possible solutions of the naming issue. Goodell, who as a child cheered for the Baltimore Colts (now in Indianapolis) and the Washington Redskins, stands by the name of the team.
Georgetown undergraduate alumni represent one of the largest contingents of professional sports owners with four current owners across the NFL, NBA and NHL. As it is the responsibility of the owners to elect the commissioners of the leagues, Roger Goodell’s mistakes will serve as a teaching moment for whoever takes the reins next. Mueller’s investigation is important to the thousands of children tearing down their Adrian Peterson posters and exchanging their Ray Rice jerseys. It is important for women everywhere, if the punishments for those guilty of domestic violence are fair and severe.
Finally, the investigation will have a deep impact on those involved in, but not playing, football. The NFL’s media, management and ownership sectors will now have a different code of conduct by which to address these issues.
Arguably the worst week in NFL history finally came to a close, but ultimately, Robert Mueller and his investigative team will play a huge role in preventing this from ever happening again, and in reshaping the NFL’s punishment policy for years to come.
Nick Barton is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business.