Accountability needed from NFL

Ray Rice (right) was cut from the Baltimore Ravens after a video surfaced from TMZ  of him knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer (left). (Patrick Semansky / AP)
Ray Rice (right) was cut from the Baltimore Ravens after a video surfaced from TMZ of him knocking out his then-fiancee Janay Palmer (left). (Patrick Semansky / AP)

The recent controversies that the NFL has been involved with have made the league seem far behind the times socially. With each controversy, the NFL and its players are conducting business like the 1960s.

The negativity started Feb. 10 when former Missouri defensive end Michael Sam came out as being gay. He was the first openly gay player to go through the NFL draft. Two days after that major announcement, New York Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas said the NFL was not ready for a gay player.

“There’s a lot of talk and joking around, and some guys walk around completely naked all the time, and they might not want to do that anymore,” Thomas said in an interview with ESPN.

His way of thinking is far off from the way most Americans see homosexuals. The idea that every gay man is attracted to every straight man that they see is ignorant and highly offensive.

The conversations were not about how he would fit on a roster, or if his size could hinder him from being impactful on the defensive side of the ball. Instead the bulk of the questions gathered around whether a team could deal with being asked constant questions about a gay man in their locker room. At the same time that Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Rams and kissed his boyfriend, Miami Dolphin safety Don Jones tweeted, “OMG.” and then followed it up with, “Horrible.” He was fined for his reactions, but it is foolish to think he is the only player that saw that and thought the same thing.

What is even more troubling is the NFL when it comes to spousal abuse. Since 2000, 736 NFL players have been arrested while 85 of those have been related to domestic abuse. Despite the number of incidents, the NFL did not have a policy on domestic abuse until after public backlash over former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s arrest in Atlantic City. Rice was originally suspended two games. The two-game suspension was for violating the personal conduct policy, a first-time offense. The NFL was more concerned with stopping players from smoking marijuana and using performance-enhancing drugs, so a DUI arrest fell in the same category as hitting a woman.

The NFL’s lack of a strict policy on this matter should make female fans worried. Why did it take 85 incidents of domestic violence for the NFL to come up with strict punishments for those men for abusing their significant others? NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is known for emphasizing player safety on the field and respecting the integrity of the league off the field. He has fallen short of ensuring that those players he is trying to protect on the field do not cause harm to women off the field. Ray Rice would have played in week three against the Cleveland Browns. The only reason why the suspension was made indefinite was because the NFL was afraid to lose money from sponsors. When Goodell announced the new policy of domestic abuse, he admitted that he got Rice’s suspension wrong.

In a last ditch effort to save face, the NFL hired three women; Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith as senior advisers to hear domestic abuse cases. The committee comes years too late for a company that has had these issues for far too long. If Goodell is really concerned on how the league looks, he would have formed this committee a long time ago instead of trying to settle the issues himself.

The straight, male-dominated world of the NFL has to realize that their actions affect everyone because people look up to athletes. Abuse against women, or excluding any homosexual person out of a group will lead to the younger generation doing the same thing. All NFL players have to get with the times and realize that any gay football player is going to be in the locker room for football and not checking out the other players on the team. Likewise, the commissioner has to realize that it is of equal importance what the players do on the field and at home.