- - Wednesday, October 26, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION

The NFL said it learned a lesson after the Ray Rice case. Now we know what the league was talking about.

The takeaway didn’t involve domestic violence and how best to address it; the focus was damage control and how best to manage it.

Even with that shallow goal, the NFL is failing miserably. That’s why kicker Josh Brown received a one-game suspension in August for violating the personal conduct policy, instead of getting the “mandatory” six-game suspension for violating the domestic violence policy.

The New York Giants cut Brown on Tuesday after the recent release of police documents that contained admissions that he abused his then-wife. Just like that, the NFL’s stance on batterers is exposed as fraudulent PR optics.

In the Rice case, the league was embarrassed into strong action when an elevator video surfaced, video that was sent to the NFL but (allegedly) never received. In the Brown case, the league was embarrassed and prompted to “thoroughly review the additional information and determine next steps” before the Giants acted first.

A thorough review of available evidence in August would’ve determined that a longer ban was appropriate when the one-game suspension was issued for a May 2015 incident.

The NFL spent $2.5 million on a 243-page manifesto entitled “Investigative Report Concerning Footballs Used During the AFC Championship Game on January 18, 2015.” Commissioner Roger Goodell has an assortment of detectives and former FBI agents on speed dial. The league has enough lawyers to fill out a roster plus two practice squads.

But no one at 345 Park Avenue uncovered enough proof to warrant a six-game suspension, despite Brown having two domestic violence run-ins within a year? No one detected the fire behind the smoke, which included NFL security moving Brown’s ex-wife to a new hotel room after he harassed her at the 2016 Pro Bowl? Goodell & Co. were afraid of overreaching on the stiffer penalty and losing an appeal, based on fear that it lacked sufficient evidence?

“I understand the public’s misunderstanding of those things and how that can be difficult for them to understand how we get to those positions,” Goodell said last weekend on the BBC. “But those are things that we have to do. I think it’s a lot deeper and a lot more complicated than it appears but it gets a lot of focus.”

I guess we’re supposed to believe the league never withheld information on concussions, either. Give me a break.

The Giants are equally guilty of gross indifference toward Brown’s behavior. They re-signed the kicker in the offseason despite their knowledge of the May 2015 and Pro Bowl incidents. “He admitted to us he’d abused his wife in the past,” team owner John Mara said last week on WFAN. “What’s a little unclear is the extent of that.”

Let that marinate for a second. The Giants were fine in re-signing a self-confessed abuser without knowing the level of his transgressions. They must have assumed it “wasn’t that bad” – whatever that means. But for all they knew, Brown subjected his wife to beatings every day and night. Presumably he didn’t share the details and they didn’t ask those questions.

Why were the Giants so comfortable in their ignorance? Because they didn’t want to know. They were hoping that nothing else would happen in the future, when they should’ve been worried about Brown’s past and its potential effect on the future.

Once again, just like in the Rice case two years ago, the NFL and one of its teams shifted into crisis mode. Their action was based on public outrage over domestic violence, not the violence itself. If the elevator video and journal entries never came to light, Rice and Brown would’ve accepted wrist smacks and gone about their business, and maybe more battering.

The NFL responded to criticism after Rice by hiring “three senior advisors” — all women — “to help lead and shape the NFL’s policies and programs relating to domestic violence and sexual assault.” But you have to wonder if the brain trust knows what it’s doing.

From all accounts, no one from the league reached out to help Brown’s ex-wife, to offer her counseling or services. She did, however, get a voicemail from one of the NFL’s private investigation firms, on May 29, 2015. It was a request to discuss the “allegations” and talk about “our policies in place,” according to documents released to the press. Sounds like touching concern.

It’s hard to believe the NFL really cares about victims of domestic violence — the wives, girlfriends and children — as opposed to the potential public relations damage when the league consistently hits all the wrong notes.

There’s the zero-tolerance stance that many experts oppose because it’s often a disincentive for victims to come forward. There’s the emphasis on punishment at the expense of prevention. There’s the short shrift given to rehabilitating offenders and supporting victims.

It all adds up: The Shield is more concerned about its image than adequately addressing the issue of abuse.

The only question left is who will be involved in the next example.

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