The Right View: NFL commissioner fails the character test

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The two-game suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice – after he was seen on video dragging his unconscious fiancee, and now wife, Janay Palmer, out of an elevator in a hotel casino and dropping her on the floor, face first, in February – was ludicrous. It wasn’t even a slap on the wrist.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s defense at first was that they didn’t know what had happened in the elevator. What did he think happened? Palmer came down with a case of the vapors? Even if she did, Rice’s response is to drag her out by her hair and drop her on the floor? Clearly something much stronger than a two-game suspension was merited.

In fact, our very own Gov. Paul LePage was the first to publicly cry foul and threaten to boycott the league in August, when Goodell’s disciplinary actions against Rice became known. In addition, he urged Goodell to take a strong stand against domestic violence, and to donate to an organization that aids abuse victims or seeks to prevent abuse.

Finally, six months after the incident, Goodell addressed all NFL team owners in an Aug. 18 letter, stating in part, “Since becoming Commissioner, my focus has been on ensuring that the NFL is held in the highest regard by our fans, players, business partners, and public authorities. My commitment has always been to do what is right and to protect the integrity of the game.

“We clearly (fell short of our goals) in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better.”

Why yes, Roger, you do have to do better.

You have to do better when your position in the NFL grants you a home such as the one you enjoy in our lovely little piece of southern Maine. As a part-time Scarborough resident, you have a little slice of heaven here, don’t you? Many of us enjoy biking or running near where you live. The sweeping ocean vistas are stunning, aren’t they?

You know, as a Righty, I have no problem with you making bajillions of dollars, and bringing further bajillions into a franchise, and game, that I personally love. Even if you were the commissioner of a sport that I couldn’t care less about, I still would not begrudge you the ability to earn, and keep, oodles of your own money, and have a gargantuan vacation home that is far larger than any human being could possibly need. Good for you. I want everyone to have the same opportunity to prosper into absurdity if they so choose. You are no different in that regard.

What I do have a problem with, however, is putting the almighty dollar above human dignity and the most basic tenants of right and wrong, which is the appearance you have given.

This is not about whether you did or didn’t see the video of the actual punch. At the very least, you knew that Rice and his fiancee were in that elevator together, and she came out unconscious, being dragged and then dropped by him. One of your NFL players did that, and you felt a two-game suspension was adequate.

Did you think a lesser sanction would avoid headlines? That then perhaps no one would notice what had happened? What possible motive could you have had for being so soft on Rice? I think a lot of us who love the game of football, and don’t begrudge you the lifestyle the game affords you, would like an answer to that question.

My guess is, in some way, shape or form, you were being driven by money, and not wanting it to be cut off. Whether from your league, or from yourself personally, some kind of twisted thinking caused you to act in the way you did; made you think that a two-game suspension adequately addressed the problem of that unconscious woman lying on the floor at the hand of one of your players.

So the next time you pull into your beautiful home, and enjoy a glass of fine wine with the stunning Maine ocean views that those of us who love your game – including millions of women – have afforded you, you may want to remember that character is how you act when you think no one is looking.

You never know when a videotape may be rolling.

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Julie McDonald-Smith lives in North Yarmouth. She is a registered nurse, former Capitol Hill staffer, and former chairwoman of the Cape Elizabeth Republican Committee. Her column appears every other week.

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