Columns, Opinion

RYAN: An Open Letter to the National Football League Commissioner

Commissioner Roger Goodell,

First of all, thank you for indefinitely suspending former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. I know it is difficult to admit you were wrong, but in the face of such overwhelming evidence and criticism, you finally made the right call.

Now, I think it is time for you to make another right call. I’d like to formally and publicly join the National Organization for Women in demanding your resignation. You will find my name and email address, along with countless others, on a petition calling for your dismissal. Since taking the title of National Football League Commissioner in 2006, you have failed to maintain a level of basic decency among players.

Most players are nothing but upstanding citizens. Countless members of the NFL have donated time and money to improving their communities. However, under your leadership, some players have made an intolerable number of poor decisions, including sexual assault, theft and most recently, domestic violence.

Professional football players have served as role models for young children since the League began. These athletes receive more attention and recognition than most celebrities. In addition to news coverage, their elevated status in our society almost always leads to special treatment. However, none of these realities excuse illegal and intolerable behavior.

We, as fans of the NFL, have a right to demand a higher caliber of behavior from all players, regardless of salary or yards rushing. Across the nation, fans are screaming for reform; instead, all these players hear is the silence coming from your office.

Yes, you suspended Ray Rice indefinitely, but only after the video of his assault went viral. Prior to that, he was suspended for just two games. Thank God he wasn’t popping Adderall in that video, a crime that earned Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker a four-game suspension.

Domestic violence is a serious crime that your organization is just beginning to address. On Monday, you appointed a new Vice President of Social Responsibilities, Anna Isaacson. A CNN article reports that three other women will join her to lead the NFL’s reform efforts in regards to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

While a step in the right direction, this move is not nearly enough. In what can only be described as a man’s world, four women are tasked with picking through the dirty laundry and forcing their ways into silent locker rooms. In a league where a woman has never been a head coach, it will be nearly impossible for these four women to break into the Boys’ Club and get the answers the American people need.

There needs to be a complete and independent investigation into how the NFL has handled both this case and previous ones. How many women weren’t heard because their abuse wasn’t posted to the Internet? How many bruises were covered up? How many voices were silenced?

We live in a nation where athletes are held in the highest esteem. Instead of teachers or scientists or aid workers, we look up to athletes and actresses and pop stars. We don’t honor the people who give the most; we aspire to be the ones with the largest paychecks. In exchange for our eternal adoration, I think the least these role models could do is act like someone worthy of the pedestal.

Don’t misunderstand me. There are phenomenal men in the NFL. They have started charities and helped raise families. They have given back to their communities 10-fold. It is ridiculous that those excellent examples of character work beside abusers. When everyone is in the same uniform, how do you expect children to tell the difference between role models and criminals?

It is because of all this that I think it is time for you to leave your position with the NFL. If you knew about the video of Rice attacking his fiancée, there is no way for you to be the moral authority as the league moves forward. How can you lead the charge against domestic violence when your first instinct was to hide the evidence?

The fans of America’s greatest sport deserve more than what you can offer. The NFL bylaws ask that the commissioner be of “unquestionable integrity.” More than a few people are starting to question your character and motives. It’s only okay to make mistakes if you take responsibility for what you have done.

Today, I am asking for your resignation as a woman who never wants to experience domestic violence. I am asking as a human being who believes it is wrong to hit someone and call it love. I am asking as a die-hard Chicago Bears fan who cannot stomach the idea that abusers are getting away with domestic violence because they are superstars.

Football is part of the American way. Domestic violence doesn’t need to be.


Sara Ryan

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One Comment

  1. Shannon Ryan Feger

    How clearly and elegantly stated, … I whole-heartedly agree.