Fault Lines
20 June 2017

NFLPD: Policing the NFL

October 24, 2016 (Fault Lines) — As the NFL struggles with public relations, behavior, and domestic violence, just how far will the it go? In 2014, following the Ray Rice suspension backlash, the NFL announced its stricter domestic violence penalties policy. It also started talking about creating a special task force unit to handle future investigations. Despite the rhetoric, it seems little progress has been made. With the NFL more concerned with public outcry than consistency, is it time to create a new police department and satisfy the public’s quest for blood?

No doubt about it: the general public loves new laws; they thrive on over-criminalization. They want those accused of misconduct hung up in courts of public opinion. So here’s another avenue ripe for exploitation: the NFL has a unique opportunity to get some skin in the game and really police their players off the field.

To back up just a bit, Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens’ running back, suffered a two-game suspension after being arrested for assaulting his then-fiancée. In a Judge Perksy-isk upheaval, the crowd went wild. Public outcry demanded more. It was not enough that Rice was arrested; not enough that he was prosecuted; not enough that he was punished through a diversion program; and not enough that he was suspended from and fined by the NFL. Penalties must be more severe.

Mandatory minimums had been all the rage, and the NFL took note. Though first defending the two-game suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell quickly made an about face amid the public outcry and announced new penalites: 6-month suspensions for first offenders and lifetime bans for repeat offenders. That’s more like it. Mandatory minimums in play for the NFL.

Two years later, that hasn’t really worked out so well. The NFL has yet to follow its own new and improved policy. Criticized as a policy that isn’t working because it wasn’t designed to work, the NFL is now uniquely poised to make it work.

In the Rice case, the league was criticized for conducting a halfhearted investigation into the incident.

But now after hiring former prosecutors and domestic violence advocates, the NFL has beefed up its investigations unit, and they won’t make that mistake again. Well…not so fast. The NFL instituted a one-game suspension for New York Giants kicker Josh Brown at the start of the 2016 season after learning he had been arrested on charges for assaulting his wife. A 10-month internal investigation ended with insufficient information to corroborate past allegations when Brown’s wife and law enforcement declined to prosecute. With a lack of additional information, the NFL was left with nothing more than its one-month suspension.

In the course of the League’s investigation, our investigators became aware that his wife had filed a statement with the county court alleging previous altercations between the spouses. However, despite multiple attempts to speak with her about this incident and her previous statements, she declined to speak with us. We understand that there are many reasons that might have affected her decision not to speak with us, but we were limited in our ability to investigate these allegations.

Over the course of the 10-month investigation, we also made numerous requests — as late as this spring — to local law enforcement officers for information on the case and previous allegations. They declined those requests for information.

As a result of these factors, our investigators had insufficient information to corroborate prior allegations. In addition, no criminal charges were brought forward regarding the incident in question or prior allegations. The NFL therefore made a decision based on the evidentiary findings around this one incident as provided to us by the District Attorney.

Despite the ramped up investigations unit, the NFL didn’t make much headway: they were limited in their ability to investigate. They couldn’t force Brown’s wife to speak with them. They couldn’t tap into privileged law enforcement databases and information which might reveal prior incidents. They had no subpoena power. The NFL found itself at a standstill. No criminal charges filed, so no additional public information. Only an arrest that went no further.

Now additional information has started to surface which may substantiate Brown’s commission of domestic violence. The King County Sheriff’s Department has released letters, emails, and journal entries in which Brown admits to abuse. And that may be a game changer. The NFL has already placed Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list, effectively placing him on paid leave and removing him from the Giants’ roster while the investigation ramps back up.

Imagine if the NFL had access to that police file sooner. Imagine if they had subpoena power – the power to compel production of Brown’s therapy records and journals. Imagine if they could have forced Brown’s wife to cooperate. Imagine a real police force: one the public could hang its hat on to meet out punishments for policy infractions and embrace its desire to feel better, feel safer. To effectively police and discipline, perhaps it is time the NFL take its cue from our schools.

Is it time to institute a police force? Or maybe hire resource officers to help enforce the rules? It hasn’t happened in the past two-years. But the public wants it. And, that could be the answer to the NFL’s public relations problem. Something more than a feel-good policy. Something real. Because we can never have too many law enforcement oriented agencies doling out punishments.

10 Comments on this post.

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  • Jim Tyre
    24 October 2016 at 11:46 am - Reply

    NFL players are trained to commit on the field violence that would be a crime if committed off the field. (Field goal kickers may be an exception, which makes the image choice odd. But I digress.) So it should be no surprise that players do commit violence off the field. The obvious solution isn’t to beef up enforcement, it’s to ban the NFL. And the NHL, while you’re at it.

    I believe that The Admiral is a fan of the NFL Giants, but all of us must sacrifice for the greater good.

    • shg
      24 October 2016 at 12:41 pm - Reply
      • Jim Tyre
        24 October 2016 at 1:14 pm - Reply

        I sit corrected.

    • JoAnne Musick
      24 October 2016 at 1:09 pm - Reply

      i find it ironic that you say players are trained to commit violence on the field when they have to be protected from taunting – boggles the mind! (at least mine anyway)

      • shg
        24 October 2016 at 1:53 pm - Reply

        That’s mostly true for Dallas players. They’re very sensitive.

        • JoAnne Musick
          24 October 2016 at 1:55 pm - Reply

          BAHAHAHA

  • Peter Gerdes
    24 October 2016 at 5:10 pm - Reply

    Punishments of players who commit domestic violence by the NFL is an utterly awful idea that re-victimizes those who are subject to domestic violence.

    The wife (or even girlfriend) of a football player who is the victim of domestic violence has a substantial financial interest in their significant other’s paycheck. This is obvious in the case of wives who (whether they stay or file for divorce) could lose millions if a severe penalty was applied. Even someone filing a civil suit against their football player boyfriend wants them to be able to pay up.

    Worse, consider the victim’s incentives when they are deciding whether to call the cops to avoid a beating or have their partner thrown in jail (either to send a wake up call, get time to move out or at least impose some punishment). Any of these choices risks a multi-million dollar loss to them by initiating an NFL investigation and subsequent suspension. If I know that calling the police, even just to stop an assault in progress, is a multi-million dollar call I won’t make it. Even if I have to endure an assault. I won’t have my assailant thrown in jail so I can move out in safety.

    This means that rather than being a deterrent NFL punishments actually reduce what limited deterrent already exists. Eventually, domestic assailants in the NFL will realize their victims can’t even call the police on them, socially humiliate them or make them spend even a day in jail.

    Thanks NFL you’ve catered to people’s baser instincts with the effect of screwing over the victims of domestic violence.

  • Sam
    24 October 2016 at 9:59 pm - Reply

    Somehow the idea of private police forces leaves me cold. Is the next step private courts or to we all ready have them in the form of final arbitration?

  • jdgalt
    24 October 2016 at 11:46 pm - Reply

    I propose a “Mind Your Own Business” law that would compel employers to stay out of situations in an employee’s personal life that don’t affect themselves.

    Or better yet, a “No Punishment Until Proven Guilty” law, which makes it defamation and actionable (including consequential damages) for anyone — even an official — to reveal an accusation of crime if the accused has not yet been found guilty. After all, we all know there’s an epidemic of false accusations of rape and domestic violence today, and it is trivially easy now to lose your job, home, and children as a result and never get them back, with the liar who did it to you walking away scot-free.

  • Jeff Davidson
    25 October 2016 at 2:25 am - Reply

    Go over to deadspin and look for the article by Diana Moskovitz on why zero-tolerance of domestic violence by NFL players (or athletes in general) is a bad idea for domestic violence victims. I would include a link but am not sure if they are allowed here.