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Flag on the NFL’s domestic violence PR play

FILE - In this March 25 2014 file phoNFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during news conference NFL football annual

FILE - In this March 25, 2014, file photo, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions during a news conference at the NFL football annual meeting in Orlando, Fla. Players will be subject to a six-week suspension for a first domestic violence offense and banishment from the league for a second under a new policy outlined by Commissioner Roger Goodell in a letter and memo sent to all 32 teams owners Thursday, Aug. 28, 2014, and obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

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Updated: October 1, 2014 6:27AM



Roger Goodell is being lauded for seeing the error of his ways regarding domestic violence, but I’m having a hard time getting past the idea of someone in his position being so stupendously wrong at the outset.

Judging by the measly two-game suspension the NFL commissioner had given Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice in July for allegedly beating his then-fiancée into unconsciousness, Goodell’s initial message seemed to be: Go ahead and beat your fiancées into unconsciousness, everybody!

When public opinion came roaring down on him, you could almost see the thought bubble above Goodell’s head: ‘‘Wait, what?’’ As if it had never occurred to him that battering and then dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator, as Rice reportedly had done, would be worth anything more than two games and a brief lament about kids these days.

Last week, in the middle of a furor that wouldn’t go away, the league toughened its approach to domestic violence, with first-time offenders now getting six-game suspensions and second-time offenders seasonlong bans. Better late than never, I suppose.

To understand the NFL, you first have to understand its obsession with PR, a fact that had made Goodell’s ruling on Rice all the more mind-boggling. You can question whether the league gives a whit about domestic violence, but you can’t question its commitment to always wanting to look good. Thus, it was stunning that someone in the league office didn’t have the sense to understand how bad Rice’s lame suspension would look. Everybody involved apparently thought New Coke was a swell idea.

After realizing the negative reaction to his wrist-slapping of Rice hadn’t gone away, the commissioner reversed field last week.

It wasn’t long before the league began shaping his change of heart as a noble example of a man who listened and adapted, a man who could turn a mistake into a better world for you and me and even those beings called ‘‘women.’’ We were told that Goodell had gone on the football equivalent of a listening tour, asking people he trusted in and out of game how the league should proceed on the topic of domestic violence.

If you’re the NFL commissioner and you have to ask whether you might have been too lenient with a woman-beater, in a league with too many women-beaters, then . . . what the heck is wrong with you, Roger Goodell? Large, incredibly strong men hitting wives, girlfriends or one-night stands — why would the leader of the monolithic NFL have to ask anyone’s opinion on such a topic?

The obvious answer: because this was the same league that thought two games was enough for Rice. Because this league has been tone deaf on the subject of domestic violence.

History is filled with examples of NFL players who have assaulted their wives or girlfriends and then gone on to the next game on the schedule. Abuse some dogs, as Michael Vick did, and watch the league get indignant. Beat the crap out of your wife? Not so much indignation, but a few whispers that maybe the woman was no innocent in the incident.

Remember, Goodell has been a tough-guy commissioner since taking over in 2006, the new sheriff intent on cleaning up a lawless town. He has come down hard on thuggish behavior off the field and bullying in the locker room, among many other issues. But when it came to a player allegedly punching his future wife, the sheriff suddenly couldn’t locate his bullets.

He needn’t have reached out to his rich and famous friends for answers. The outrage from the little people out there should have told him all he needed to know.

There was more uproar earlier last week when the league upheld its seasonlong suspension of Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon for multiple violations of its drug policy, most recently for smoking marijuana. Two games for Rice, a season for Gordon. As someone put it on Twitter, you can hit Mary in the NFL, but you can’t hit Mary Jane.

The cases were apples and oranges, of course, with Gordon’s punishment clearly spelled out in the league’s drug policy. But still. That’s what I and many others can’t get past: But still.

If Goodell had truly seen the light, the epiphany would have come with teeth. How about a zero-tolerance policy? You abuse a woman who, I don’t know, weighs 150 pounds less than you, and you lose your job. But, no.

In what world is it OK for a man to hit a woman? For the longest time, the NFL’s.



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