Philadelphia, PA – (SportsNetwork.com) - The fact that we look to Roger Goodell and the NFL to take the lead on any number of social issues should say more about us as a society than the commissioner or the league he lords over.
Still it was stunning to see just how tone deaf Goodell was to the issue of domestic violence in Canton earlier this month when he finally addressed his laughably light two-game suspension of Ray Rice, who knocked his then-finance out cold in an Atlantic City casino.
You would think the leader of a business that generates $9 billion a year might have a public relations professional or two who could have steered him in the direction of logic and education, which could have explained the extenuating circumstances between the Ravens star's punishment and say Josh Gordon, who was just banished for a year due to an inability to stay away from weed.
Left to its own devices, however, a general public which couldn't care less about the language of any collective bargaining agreement came to the conclusion that Goodell and his league were like that very casino, the Revel Resort, which captured Rice's horrific crime on video -- bankrupt.
Goodell bowed to that narrative on Thursday, "unilaterally" changing the NFL's stance on domestic-abuse issues in a letter penned to the league's 32 owners.
In the letter Goodell decreed his players will now be subject to a six-week suspension for a first domestic-violence offense and a lifetime ban for a second one.
"At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals," Goodell wrote. "We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence.
"We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place.
"My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."
There is little doubt Goodell got the Rice situation wrong and a nod toward that should have been sufficient. Instead, we got moral Roger in full spin mode.
Understand nothing changed on Thursday save the fact Goodell "promised" to use his omnipotent power under the personal-conduct policy in a certain way, to make it seem like he amped up penalties on paper.
He had the right to suspend Rice or anyone else six games before this decree and he has the right to change his mind and cut a potential suspension if he sees fit after it, as long as he feels like taking the heat in the court of public opinion.
And the "lifetime ban" wording was nonsense, a phrase used to placate those running around with their torches and pitchforks. In reality it's a one-year penalty before you can ask to be reinstated, a nod to a court system which doesn't take kindly to those trying to keep someone, even a felon, from making a livelihood.
The rationale Goodell tapped to and might even believe was simple and without nuance, a very powerful man who knocked out his now wife was treated with kid gloves and recreational drug cheats like Gordon are vilified because they like to party with their friends, something a lot of people in this generation equate to jaywalking or perhaps less.
It was a tip of the cap to a specious and uneducated argument, made easier by the fact dozens of reporters, perhaps looking to feel better about themselves, felt telling part of the story was the proper ends-justifies-the- means approach.
So, with the toothpaste out of the tube, Goodell punted on Thursday, erecting his very own soapbox right next to so many others while bowing to the pressure of the uninformed.
"Much of the criticism stemmed from a fundamental recognition that the NFL is a leader, that we do stand for important values, and that we can project those values in ways that have a positive impact beyond professional football," the commish wrote.
We can only hope that's not true because if anyone is adjusting their moral compass with the NFL as a guide, that's pitiable.
On paper getting tougher on domestic violence may seem like a no-brainer but the law of unintended consequences looms for the NFL if they implement this without distinction.
By planning a rush to judgment in future cases in order to acquiesce to the whims of critics, Goodell not only opened up his league to future collective bargaining hurdles, he also left his 32 bosses open to significant legal challenges down the line.
As for those who use the NFL as a litmus test for the social issues of the day, they can move on to the next flavor of the week, satiated by the "win." To those truly concerned about domestic violence, they will go on fighting the good fight in far more meaningful and productive forums.