'Goodell mishandled this situation from start to finish'

Social worker, petition founder and fan wants NFL commissioner to resign

September 10, 2014|Dan Rodricks

This should have been a totally tall week for Baltimore — tall ships and Blue Angels for War of 1812 commemorations; the Orioles, ever closer to a division title, back home to play the Yankees; Derek Jeter bidding farewell to Camden Yards; the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium to face their biggest rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thursday night on national television.

Big stuff, tall stuff, a real wow week in the life of Charm City.

And it's all still true, except for the clouds left by the Ray Rice storm.

They'll linger for a while, and it will be interesting to see how much more coverage CBS gives this sordid story after giving NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ample air time to explain himself Tuesday, and in light of a report Wednesday that a New Jersey law enforcement official sent the now-infamous elevator tape to the NFL in April.

But here's my question: What part of "rendered her unconscious" didn't the NFL commissioner and the owner of the Ravens understand seven months ago?

Those are words from the original police report on the incident: "striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious."

These words are pretty clear to me and, imagine this: They have impact, they have real meaning, even without supporting video.

Of course, in this case, there was supporting video — 50 seconds of Rice callously dragging his future wife, Janay Palmer, now Janay Rice, out of the elevator of the Revel Casino Hotel. That video, along with the police report, became public five days after Rice and Palmer were arrested.

Anyone with common sense would have concluded that Rice had punched his fiancee hard enough to knock her out. No second video needed.

Anyone with common sense would have dismissed as lawyer talk Rice's attorney's claim that the incident was a "very minor physical altercation."

And anyone would have wondered why Palmer, clearly the victim, had been implicated and arrested, and why, after the charge against her was dropped, she appeared at a news conference with Rice and offered an apology for "the role that I played in the incident that night."

That is, if you had any understanding of domestic violence.

And clearly, that's where the macho and obtuse culture of the NFL got it wrong.

Gretchen Tome is a Baltimore social worker, formerly with the House of Ruth. She's also a feminist and a football fan. She has organized online petition drives to get the NFL to require counseling of players who commit acts of violence against their intimate partners.

She thinks Goodell should resign. "He mishandled this situation from start to finish," she says.

For one thing, Tome says, Goodell should never have interviewed Rice and his fiancee together, as he did in New York in mid-June.

That point is supported by Christine Murray of the American Counseling Association, an associate professor of counseling and education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

"In general, when violence is present in a couple's relationship, couple therapy is not recommended," Murray says. "Couple therapy can be dangerous if there is violence in a relationship because the therapy can stir up conflict that could escalate to violence, especially after the client leaves the session and returns to the privacy of their home.

"In addition, treating the violence as a relationship issue can imply that the victim is to blame for it, when the responsibility for the abuse always lies squarely with the perpetrator."

Tome started her online drive in 2012, following a murder-suicide committed by a Kansas City Chiefs player, Jovan Belcher. She revived the petition in July, after Goodell suspended Rice for only two games.

The revised petition, which demanded consistent punishment of NFL players who harm women, gathered "just under" 145,000 signatures, Tome says.

Though Goodell never contacted her, she felt satisfied in August when the commissioner announced a new policy on domestic violence, including harsher penalties than the one he originally had given to Rice.

Rice, of course, has been suspended indefinitely because of the second elevator video, which confirmed what many of us suspected after reading "rendered her unconscious" in the police report.

Tome thinks Goodell showed poor leadership.

"He only took action when public pressure mounted and the season was about to begin," she says. "I think that the commissioner of the NFL needs to be someone who understands that the league has a responsibility to society at large, and someone who can be trusted to make the right call all of the time, not just when the spotlight is on. … I think it is past time for the NFL to use its influence as the most popular sport in the country to take a strong stand against domestic violence."

Sounds like the Ravens should make Tome their next draft pick.

drodricks@baltsun.com

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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