Monday, September 22, 2014

What to do about the NFL?

Last Saturday, I wrote about the ever-widening Ray Rice scandal and how the NFL's handling of that and other domestic violence cases is very similar to how the League covered up for years the long-term damage done by traumatic brain injuries. Today, both Baltimore Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and head coach John Harbaugh issued statements denying some of the allegations of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" report. One of the two reporters on the story, Don Van Natta, Jr., a multiple Pulitzer Prize winner, said that he and ESPN stand by the story. Van Natta is expected to file a written response to the Ravens' denials soon.

In his public comments, Bisciotti claimed that the source for the ESPN story was Ray Rice and his associates. However, Van Natta claims that he and reporter Kevin Van Valkenburg interviewed more than 20 sources over 11 days. Given the level of detail in the ESPN report, it's inconceivable that the network would have run the story without independent confirmation. Rice and his associates had to be considered biased sources, so running their claims without independent confirmation would have been foolhardy (except for those situations where Rice was the only one in a meeting who was willing to comment on it, such as the closed-door meeting between Ray and Janay Rice and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.)

If the ESPN report is all, or even just substantially true, serious reform needs to happen within the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens, and possibly, even in the Baltimore City and County State Attorneys' offices. Here are some practical steps that can be taken:

  • Commissioner Roger Goodell and the entire senior staff of the NFL should be fired, and replaced with a new Commissioner with a) An impeccable reputation, and b) No current personal or professional connection with any NFL team owner. That Commissioner will then appoint the remaining members of the League's top management.
  • In an article published today, "New Yorker" staff writer Ben McGrath noted that the NFL is classified as a "nonprofit trade organization" by the IRS--A nonprofit that pays its Commissioner $44 million a year, and that pays its top leadership a significant fraction of the total annual payroll for all the players in the NFL. The IRS should strip the NFL of its nonprofit status, and if the IRS is unwilling or unable to do so, the U.S. Congress should step in and do it.
  • The Baltimore State's Attorneys who gave Ray Rice permission to enter a no-jail diversion program usually used for non-violent drug cases, Ravens owner Steve Biscotti and other team executives should be investigated for obstruction of justice, bribery and influence peddling. If Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler is unwilling to take the case or unable to do so because of a conflict of interest, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley should appoint an independent prosecutor.
These are practical steps that the League, the IRS and Maryland's top law enforcers should take to reform the NFL and find out, to the satisfaction of a judge and jury, who actually participated in the decision to give Ray Rice a slap on the wrist for beating his (soon to be) wife. The NFL and its team owners may hope that by spreading enough cash around and letting things stretch out, the entire affair will eventually blow over. Everything eventually blows over--the question is, "What will be left standing when the wind dies down?"

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