“When Goodell allowed Michael Vick back into the NFL, he once again wimped out … Vick’s next victim will likely not be a dog. That won’t matter to Goodell, though, because he’s amazingly tolerant of players who commit crimes against humans, too.”
— “Are you ready for some felons?”
Northside San Francisco, February 2011
In my 2011 article “Are you ready for some felons?”, I said National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell led the organization by “coddling its criminals” with the attitude that “a guy is only as bad as his last game.” I detailed the startling number of men playing in the NFL after committing heinous acts, like convicted dogfighter Michael Vick, who tortured dogs by electrocution, hanging and drowning. Then there’s cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones, whose long criminal record includes assaulting a stripper and threatening the life of a security guard in Las Vegas. For that, he was suspended for the 2007 season, but returned to play with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008 (he now plays for the Cincinnati Bengals). I also chronicled Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who pled guilty to obstruction of justice in 2000 and agreed to testify against two friends so prosecutors would dismiss murder charges against him when he was accused of stabbing two people to death after a Super Bowl party. Lewis was fined, but not suspended. In 2008, he received his 10th selection to the Pro Bowl.
A shocking number of player crimes involve violence against women, and it often starts before they enter the NFL. Chicago Bears defensive tackle Christian Peter had been arrested eight times while at the University of Nebraska on charges including choking a girlfriend, raping a freshman multiple times, and sexually assaulting two other women. The violence also continues after players retire. In June 2010, Hall of Fame New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor was indicted on six charges, including raping a 16-year-old girl. First-round draft pick Rae Carruth of the Carolina Panthers was found guilty of conspiring to commit murder against his pregnant girlfriend in 2001. Though the woman died, the 8-month-old fetus survived. Carruth is serving an 18- to 24-year prison term.
After my column “Are the 49ers a bunch of thugs?” (Marina Times, May 2014), I received positive and negative responses. Much of the negativity came from die-hard San Francisco 49er fans, like the guy who insisted I just wanted a salacious headline. I wrote that coach Jim Harbaugh “seems willing to overlook criminal behavior and incredibly bad judgment as he cultivates and enables a troubled band of thugs.” With Harbaugh’s refusal to bench defensive end Ray McDonald after his Aug. 31 arrest for domestic violence, he continues to prove my point. At the time of that article, the 49ers were the second most arrested team in the NFL, but after McDonald’s arrest they can finally say, “We’re number one!” (Too bad they can’t say it on the field.)
According to a USA Today database of NFL crimes, more than 700 players were arrested between January 2000 and September 2014. That’s an average of one in 40 NFL players annually, but because the database only covers media reported incidents, the number is likely higher. The New York Times analyzed the database and found 202 cases of driving under the influence; 88 cases of assault and battery; 85 cases of domestic violence; 82 drug charges; 38 gun charges; and 7 cases involving manslaughter, murder or attempted murder. There were also sexual assaults, robberies and animal abuse. Under Goodell’s lenient leadership, the NFL has become the National Felons League, and it’s time for this out-of-touch good ole boy to go. He disagrees. On Sept. 19, Goodell held a pointless press conference where the only thing he wasn’t vague about was his defiant determination to remain commissioner.
Frankly, he should have stepped down for his botched handling of the Ray Rice situation. Video from an Atlantic City hotel shows the Baltimore Ravens star running back dragging unconscious fiancée (now wife) Janay Palmer out of an elevator and dropping her face down on the floor. Goodell suspended Rice for just two games, but after public outrage he admitted his error and instituted new league penalties. “Violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense,” Goodell said in a letter to team owners. A second offense triggers a suspension of at least a year, although a player could apply for reinstatement. Meanwhile, additional footage surfaced, this time from inside the elevator, showing Rice cold cocking Palmer, prompting the Ravens to cut him and Goodell to suspend him “indefinitely.” Goodell insisted the NFL knew nothing of the second tape, but law enforcement sources contradict that, stating they have a voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. Also, in June, Rice confessed to Goodell that he punched Palmer and knocked her out. (Goodell says he still doesn’t rule out Rice returning to the NFL.)
On Sept. 13, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was indicted by a grand jury for allegedly beating his four-year-old son with a branch, causing cuts and bruises to his back, buttocks, ankles, and legs. Peterson was deactivated for one game, but on Sept. 15 Vikings general manager Rick Spielman — while acknowledging photos of the boy’s injuries were “disturbing” — said the 2012 NFL MVP had been reinstated because “he deserved to play.” Then big sponsors like Anheuser-Busch expressed their dissatisfaction with the NFL’s handling of domestic violence cases and the Vikings placed Peterson on the exempt/commissioner’s permission list (which requires him to stay away from all team activities until resolution of his legal proceedings). In May, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy violently beat his girlfriend and threatened to kill her. He was convicted in July, but he played in the season opener. Like Peterson, he was been placed on the exempt list after the sponsor dust-up.
Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested on Sept. 17 for two incidents involving a woman and their 18-month-old son. Charges included one count of aggravated assault causing a fracture, one count of aggravated assault involving a child, two counts of criminal damage, and one count of assault. The Cardinals immediately deactivated Dwyer for the Sept. 21 match-up against the 49ers. True to his word, Harbaugh started McDonald. The 49ers still lost the game — along with a little more of their dignity.