The case of soccer goalkeeper Hope Solo and the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice drew distinct reactions from their respective major sports leagues after incidents of domestic violence gained media attention. When considered in the greater context, the leagues’ differing responses hint toward a deeper, more disturbing trend within the NFL, worse than negligence by the United States Soccer Federation.
Controversy consistently accumulates in the NFL. The short- and long-term consequences of brain injuries sustained during games serves as one major example. Junior Seau, former New England Patriots linebacker, committed suicide in 2012 after suffering from brain disease. The NFL has previously noted in court documents that nearly a third of its former players will ultimately have long-term cognitive issues. Now, the league is under fire for trends of domestic violence.
After the video of Ray Rice knocking out his fiancée surfaced, it was revealed that Adrian Peterson abused his 4-year-old son. The NFL poorly reacted to these revelations, hastily changing positions on suspensions while dodging damning evidence, outrage from fans, media reports and hesitation from major advertisers.
In 2007, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a pact to personally handle off-the-field transgressions, which was supported at the time. It has evidently failed, resulting in disproportionate, unfair and inconsistent punishments for transgressions. A player received a one-year suspension for smoking marijuana. Another player beat his 4-year-old son and the NFL could not decide whether that deserved a ban of two games, six games or life — or perhaps no penalty at all. The policy has failed, and even Roger Goodell acknowledges that.
Conversely, Hope Solo continues to play in the USSF as her domestic violence trial approaches on Nov. 4.
A significant reason her case has not been met with comparable outrage is that the public views the allegation as a reflection on the individual, not on organized soccer. Unlike the NFL, the USSF is not plagued with a culture of violence and aggression.
Rice does not represent the first major domestic violence dispute in the NFL, and he will likely not be the last. Goodell’s response to current and past scandals is a disturbing sign that the NFL is unprepared to take responsibility for its role in domestic violence and unwillingness to enforce meaningful policies that would positively reflect on both the NFL and larger culture.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Sept. 29 print edition. Email Matthew Tessler at [email protected]