Have we reached the tipping point? The line in the sand where enough is enough? The moment where we acknowledge that the NFL is not only employing criminals but likely harboring them as well?
It is naïve to think that the increased criminal behavior of the NFL players compared to the national average is mere coincidence. ESPN cites that since 2000 the NFL arrest rate is 55.4 percent over the national average in domestic violence. The issues in the NFL are a result of a toxic corporate culture where taking care of ones own has trumped human decency and a basic moral code.
I have been lucky in my years as an employment lawyer to work for companies that both give employees the benefit of the doubt and have a sense of right and wrong. In most cases, like the NFL, we wait for a conviction before we terminate or make a judgment that could impact their employment. Mind you, most of the cases we see are DUIs, theft or fraud and not violent in nature. When we have had a murder or a violent crime you can be assured that we do not risk our greater employee welfare by keeping a violent criminal in our workforce. There are policies companies can create to help manage the "non-conviction" scenario in an ethical and thoughtful way. My sense is that the NFL has been walking a fine line of these "non-conviction" scenarios with success and has now crossed the line into blatantly employing violent felons by "disciplining" them with minor infractions with no rehabilitative impact.
I can sympathize with the NFL's position of due process as it relates to their players. No private citizen will be the target of false accusations in the way many celebrities today are attacked. Due process protects the innocently accused from being slandered and convicted before a thorough investigation. I am willing on occasion to give the benefit of the doubt to a player who is accused by someone they had a drink with in a bar (though many of those probably have merit.) However, these cases we are seeing out of the NFL are far from the fact patterns we should be giving latitude to. Instead, we are seeing violence in these player's homes, with people who trust them, people who love them. These players are violent with their most special people in a dynamic I can only label as disturbing and wrong.
And yet, instead of taking positive action the NFL is waiting for us, the fans, to tell them what is and what is not acceptable. For years, we the fans have sat on the sidelines, cheering these guys on while the executives and owners pad their pockets and the families of the violent criminals try to make their home life okay with the comforts of money. With today's technology and social media this "private" life of violent criminals is no longer private. Instead we at home now have a view into Ray Rice's marriage. A view we didn't want and a view I cannot erase from my mind. I feel responsible. I am afraid that by doing nothing, I am supporting a system that harbors criminals. If Ray Rice were not a star football player, I can think of no courtroom where he would not be convicted and sentenced. Instead, deep pocket attorneys, a tough conversation with the NFL commissioner and a compelling plea from his beautiful wife had temporarily resulted in all of us, happy to watch another game and happily assume any wrongdoing was minor. Because you, like me, probably believed that if it was really bad, someone would do something. The police? The courts? Her family? The NFL? But no. Nobody did anything. He got a two-game suspension. And then, the video was released. And it turns out the public has a better moral compass than the parties listed above. And WE, we the public, were outraged, incensed and disappointed in what was clearly one of the worst judgment calls of all time.
If this was a one off situation maybe we could forgive those involved and move on. But we don't get to. The story of Adrian Pederson is out there; a felony conviction for horrifically beating his four year old son. Then we have Ray McDonald, arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence when the police were called to his house. This is just the last couple of weeks.
My son loves all sports especially football. My husband and I have wrestled with how to address this moral crisis in football in our home. Our response this Sunday was to not mention football. We didn't turn on the games, we didn't throw a ball around and we didn't mention it to our son. I thought our biggest conversation with our son and football would be around concussions. Instead, our biggest conversation will be about violence against women, corporate greed and putting winning in front of right and wrong. At five, these are heavy topics. We will fade football into the background of our lives until he is at an age where we can talk about the disappointing realities of this national pastime.
What will you do to send a message to the NFL that this cannot go on?