Roger Goodell vows to ‘get it right’ on domestic violence issues
NEW YORK — More defiant than contrite, Roger Goodell announced no sweeping changes in his first public statements in more than a week of turmoil surrounding the NFL’s handling of players accused of crimes.
The commissioner was definitive about one thing: He has not considered resigning.
Goodell was short on specifics Friday as he discussed how he would address the rash of domestic violence incidents in the league. He said the NFL wants to implement new personal conduct policies by the Super Bowl.
"Unfortunately, over the past several weeks, we have seen all too much of the NFL doing wrong," he said in his opening statement. "That starts with me."
The league has faced increasing criticism that it has not acted quickly or emphatically enough. The commissioner reiterated that he botched the handling of the Ray Rice case.
"The same mistakes can never be repeated," he said.
Goodell said he would meet with NFL Players Association chief DeMaurice Smith next week, and they would work with outside experts to evaluate the league’s policies.
Among the areas that will be examined is Goodell’s role in discipline. The commissioner now oversees all personal conduct cases, deciding guilt and penalties.
He will establish a committee to review NFL personal conduct, seeking experts in the area of domestic abuse and violence to serve on it. Goodell’s role with such a committee was not directly addressed.
"Nothing is off the table," he said.
One of the key questions is how to balance the league’s desire to take a stance against violent acts with the due process requirements — and the sometimes slow pace — of the legal system. Goodell indicated the league is considering becoming "engaged" in the investigation process while law enforcement is still handling its probes.
Goodell said he believes he has the support of the NFL’s owners, his bosses.
"That has been clear to me," he said.
The commissioner and some NFL teams have been heavily criticized for lenient or delayed punishment of Rice, Adrian Peterson and other players involved in recent domestic violence cases. Less than three weeks into the season, five such cases have made headlines.
Vikings star running back Peterson and Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy are on a special commissioner’s exemption list and are being paid while they go through the legal process. Arizona running back Jonathan Dwyer was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list, meaning he can’t play for the team again this season. Ray McDonald, a defensive end for San Francisco, continues to practice and play while being investigated on suspicion of domestic violence.
Groups such as the National Organization of Women and league partners and sponsors have come down hard on the NFL to be more responsive in dealing with them. Congress also is watching to see how the NFL reacts.
NOW President Terry O’Neill reiterated her calls for Goodell to resign.
"NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell today did nothing to increase confidence in his ability to lead the NFL out of its morass," O’Neill said in a statement. "What Mr. Goodell doesn’t seem to understand is that he should be aiming to make fundamental changes in the organization."
Rice was initially suspended for two games. Goodell admitted more than a month later that he "didn’t get it right" and announced tougher penalties for future domestic violent incidents.
After video emerged of the assault, the Baltimore Ravens cut the star running back and the league banned him indefinitely.
Goodell reiterated Friday that he didn’t believe anybody at the NFL had seen the video before it was published by TMZ. The Associated Press reported last week that a law enforcement official says he sent the video to a league executive five months ago.
Citing Rice’s appeal of his suspension, Goodell declined to specify Friday how the player’s description of what happened was "inconsistent" with what the video showed — the commissioner’s reason for changing his punishment.
The NFL asked former FBI director Robert Mueller to conduct an investigation into the league’s handling of the Rice case. The law firm where Mueller is now a partner, WilmerHale, has connections to the NFL. Goodell insisted Friday that it wasn’t a conflict of interest because Mueller himself has not previously worked with the league.
Goodell acknowledged he has learned that interviewing Rice and his now-wife together is an inappropriate way to handle a domestic violence case.
The commissioner declined to address whether any women were involved in the decision to suspend Rice for two games, but conceded that’s "exactly what we’re concerned about."
"We didn’t have the right voices at the table," he added.
The NFL has since added domestic violence experts as consultants. It also announced it is partnering with a domestic violence hotline and a sexual violence resource center.
In a memo to the clubs late Thursday, Goodell said that within the next 30 days, all NFL and team personnel will participate in education sessions on domestic violence and sexual assault.
The league will provide financial, operational and promotional support to the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.