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Volume 24 No. 156
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Birch Defends NFL's Suspension Of Ray Rice, But Should Goodell Publicly Explain Its Length?

NFL VP/Labor Policy & Government Affairs Adolpho Birch this morning appeared on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike" to explain why the suspension given to Ravens RB Ray Rice was for just two games. He said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell elicited a "number of perspectives" before announcing the suspension, which is the "way that we determine discipline in all of these types of cases." Birch said, "He doesn't sit in a vacuum when he's making these types of decisions, but instead consults with people, listens to the perspectives of the players' association and others at the league office and ultimately makes a decision that he thinks is appropriate based on both the conduct and the importance of making the right message for the league and others going forward.” He added, "The discipline that was taken by the NFL is the only discipline that occurred with respect to Mr. Rice in this case. I think that were he not an NFL player, I don’t know that he would have received any punishment from any other source." ESPN's Mike Golic noted it is Goodell's job "to protect the shield" and he asked Birch, "Can you understand why people have said the shield has taken a dent because a man hit a woman and was only suspended two games for it?” Birch: “The league's response to it demonstrates that we don't condone the behavior." ESPN's Mike Greenberg: "Can you understand where the optics of that are causing people to question how seriously the National Football League takes the matter of domestic violence?” Birch: “I can understand that as an initial reaction. But I think, on balance, when you look at the entirety of how we address issues of domestic violence, how we address issues related to the integrity of our game, it’s fair to say that we believe that they're all important and we treat them all in a way that reflects what we believe to be the values of the league." Birch later added, "In terms of sending a message about what the league stands for, we've done that."

JUST COMPLICATING MATTERS: Following the interview, Greenberg said, "I started that interview taking notes, and at one point, I just gave up. He told us that they wouldn't discuss comparative cases; he said that the Ben Roethlisberger one was a totally different case. But then that's exactly how they came to the two games, comparing it to other cases. I just found myself more and more confused as that conversation went on, to be completely honest. I do not feel that most people listening to that discussion feel they got an adequate explanation of how they arrived at two games." He added, "The problem is they've now set a bar of two games. The bar has been set at two games. For them to say, ‘Any player who thinks that he's going to get involved in the case of domestic violence and the league doesn't take that seriously’ -- you take it half as seriously as you do taking the wrong cold medicine or taking the wrong over-the-counter supplement. This is a mess and I don’t think that just made it any better" ("Mike & Mike," ESPN Radio, 7/28).

: THE MMQB's Peter King writes if he was Goodell, he would "take time this week to explain" why the suspension was not longer. Goodell likely will not that this route "because it will extend an ugly story for another couple of news cycles, because whatever he says he’ll get bashed over the head for it by people who think he went far too soft on Rice." But even if the criticism continued sharply, Goodell "needs to come out and explain himself." Too many people, especially women, "feel outraged over this" (, 7/28). ABC News consultant Donna Brazile said, “It's time for the men who run the NFL ... to understand this is a huge problem. By slapping a small penalty on him, it sends the wrong message to kids." She added, "They should have really made him pay a price. I think the NFL should have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to domestic violence.” Former U.S. Labor Sec. Robert Reich said, “The NFL has a domestic-violence problem. We all know this. … This is less than a slap on the wrist. This is less than almost any kind of penalty they've given for almost anything else” ("This Week with George Stephanopoulos," ABC, 7/27).

: In Oakland, Marcus Thompson II wrote for a league "so concerned with keeping its shield shiny, the NFL really dropped the ball on its discipline" of Rice. The "soft punishment is at best a public relations blunder and at worst a sign of the league's lack of respect for women" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 7/27). In New Jersey, Barry Federovitch writes under the header, "Goodell Fumbled Rice Decision" (TRENTON TIMES, 7/28). In Boston, Chris Villani wrote the NFL has "been severely lacking when disciplining certain off-field transgressions, including violent crimes." The "sad part of Rice’s suspension is that it actually does have a strong basis in precedent" (BOSTON HERALD, 7/27). Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom said, "This is a problem. They don't really have a domestic-violence policy in place, although, if you look at the statistics, they are alarming over the years. I think they should have very, very harsh penalties for both that and sexual assault" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 7/27). In Edmonton, Jason Gregor writes, "Maybe we shouldn’t expect the NFL to be better than us." But when the NFL "suspends players for fewer games for domestic abuse than for drug use, it sends the wrong message" (EDMONTON JOURNAL, 7/28). In Pittsburgh, Joe Starkey wrote under the header, "Goodell's Gutless Ruling Sign Of Times" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 7/27). Meanwhile, in N.Y., Phil Mushnick wonders about the "NFLPA’s position" on punishments for domestic violence. Mushnick: "It’s as important as the NFL’s, no? Shouldn’t the NFLPA provide the public with what it feels is the proper internal punishment -- some sentencing guidelines -- for players given to domestic violence and/or sexual assault?" (N.Y. POST, 7/28).

MESSAGE TO WOMEN: In Boston, Ben Volin wrote Rice's punishment "seems especially hollow given how the NFL salutes women throughout October." What should be "nothing but a positive deed now looks like empty pandering by the NFL -- the league cares about women, but only when there’s profit to be made" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/27). In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw writes there is "nothing difficult about sending a message that violence against women is unforgivable." Goodell "chose not to do that in the Ray Rice case." Cowlishaw: "Who knows, maybe he was busy trying to pick a city for the 2015 draft" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 7/28). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi wrote maybe it is time for the NFL and other sports leagues that wear pink apparel in October to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Week "to start doing the same with the purple that represents Domestic Violence Awareness Month" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 7/27).

:'s Jim Trotter wrote under the header, "Is Roger Goodell Getting Soft?" Trotter cites people close to Goodell as saying that he "hasn't changed, that he's as vigilant and committed to protecting The Shield as the day he took office." But he is "certainly going about it differently" now. Goodell "might not be Roger the Merciful, but he's no longer presenting himself as THE ENFORCER" (, 7/25). In N.Y., Mike Lupica wrote Goodell's job of disciplining players has "become too big and too complicated, even for him." His rulings have "become increasingly inconsistent, and it shows now with Ray Rice" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/27).