NEW YORK >> As calls increased for the NFL to adequately address its recent rash of off-field violence, Commissioner Roger Goodell finally spoke publicly about the issue Friday, apologizing for his role in poor decision-making and promising a revamped personal conduct policy to address future cases.
Goodell spoke at a news conference and began by reiterating that his initial response to the former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s domestic violence incident was wrong.
“I am not satisfied with the way we handled it,” he said. “I made a mistake. I am not satisfied with the process we went through. I am not satisfied with the conclusion.”
He said he has not considered resigning, something various groups have called for in the past week.
“I have not,” he said. “I am focused on doing my job. I understand when people are critical of my performance, but we have work to do. I am proud of the opportunity we have to make a difference and do the right thing. We’ve acknowledged that we need to make changes and now we have to get those changes going.”
Goodell had not spoken publicly since the video of Rice punching his fiancee, Janay Palmer, became public, creating the firestorm that led to Friday’s response. His silence seemed to only increase the criticism aimed at the league for mishandling Rice’s case, as well as two other domestic violence cases and child abuse allegations against Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
On Thursday night, Goodell sent a letter to teams announcing part of the league’s initiative was to begin supporting both the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center and to mandate education and training for all players and staff on preventing abuse.
Goodell’s letter was the league’s follow-up to his recent promise to increase the league’s commitment to fight both domestic and sexual violence.
In the time of Goodell’s silence, however, the pressure has grown on the NFL as the cases have piled up.
Procter & Gamble joined the list of sponsors distancing themselves from the league as its image faltered, pulling its Crest toothpaste brand out of a campaign in conjunction with the league’s breast cancer awareness month. It is a major blow to the league’s biggest effort on behalf of female fans, when players wear pink shoes, arm bands or other equipment during games in October.
“Crest believes Breast Cancer Awareness is a critically important program to support women and their health, and, as planned, is making a $100,000 donation to the American Cancer Society for breast cancer awareness and will participate in media and retailer activities to help drive attention to the cause,” the company said in a statement. “The brand has decided to cancel on-field activation with NFL teams.”
This follows unusually critical public statements from sponsors, including Anheuser-Busch, McDonald’s and Visa, regarding the league’s handling of Rice’s suspension and the other cases.
A White House official also weighed in Friday in a briefing with reporters, saying the league must adopt a zero tolerance stance on violence against women.
“I think everyone would agree that the most recent revelations of abuse by the NFL players is really deeply troubling,” a senior administration official said. “And the NFL has an obligation not only to their fans, but to the American people, to properly discipline anyone involved in domestic violence or child abuse, and more broadly gain control of the situation.”
The criticism has only grown while Goodell stayed silent, his letter to the teams Thursday night being his first large-scale communication since last week. In it, he promised the league would be committed to battling domestic and sexual violence on a large scale.
He said in the letter that calls to the National Domestic Violence Hotline had increased 84 percent during the week of Sept. 8, the week the Rice video became public, but that the hotline did not have enough staff to answer all the calls. He said the league would provide financial support so the hotline could hire 25 more advocates. He also promised money and promotional support to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, including its Loveisrespect project, a text-messaging hotline for young adults dealing with dating abuse.
The league also said educational programs for all 32 teams would begin within the next 30 days on preventing domestic abuse and sexual violence. There are also plans for a public awareness campaign, although the recent spate of cases involving players seems to have accomplished that.