UPDATE 9/10/2014 5:01 p.m.: The NFL obtained the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee five months ago, even as league executives have insisted that they didn’t see the graphic video until this week, according to the Associated Press. A law enforcement official played the AP a 12-second voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming the video arrived. A female voice is heard commenting on the video: “You’re right. It’s terrible.”
The law enforcement official could not confirm anyone watched the video. The official was not unauthorized to release the video to the NFL, but said they shared it because they wanted the league to use it to determine Rice’s punishment, according to the AP.
NFL officials have repeatedly said they did not see the video of Rice hitting Janay Palmer at an Atlantic City casino in February until it was made public Monday. After the AP broke the story late Wednesday about the NFL obtaining the Rice video in April, the hashtag #FireGoodell began trending on social media.
An increasing number of prominent voices this week have called for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign from his post, citing the league’s questionable response to the Ray Rice domestic violence saga. But to force Goodell out, critics will have to convince NFL team owners that employing the man who oversaw the most lucrative era in the pro football league's history is no longer in their best interests.
For many, Goodell’s failure to decisively punish Rice until previously unseen surveillance footage of the former Ravens running back’s physical assault on his then-fiancée leaked to the public Monday was just the latest example of the league’s apathy toward domestic violence. "The NFL has lost its way. It doesn't have a Ray Rice problem; it has a ‘violence against women’ problem," National Organization of Women President Terry O’Neill said in a statement. “The only workable solution is for Roger Goodell to resign, and for his successor to appoint an independent investigator with full authority to gather factual data about domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking within the NFL community, and to recommend real and lasting reforms."
NOW’s statement is just one voice in a growing chorus of anti-Goodell sentiment this week. “Roger Goodell’s existence, who he is, what he has turned the NFL commissioner’s office into, is now symbolized by Ray Rice’s brutal left hand striking Janay Palmer and striking her again. Mr. Goodell is an enabler of men who beat women,” ESPN’s Keith Olbermann said Monday. Several other media outlets, including male-skewing Vice and Forbes, have also called for an end to his reign.
Lawmakers have also joined the outcry against Goodell. When asked if she believed Goodell should resign from his position, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., told The Hill Tuesday “he should consider it seriously.”
Goodell could choose to step down as commissioner on his own, but any bid to force him out would have to go through the team owners – the men who hired Goodell in 2006 to oversee the league. Moreover, those owners would have to collectively decide that an executive who oversaw a growing business in 2013 is no longer capable of performing his duties effectively. Under Goodell’s watch, the NFL’s 32 teams split more than $6 billion in revenue last season – an increase of 56 percent since he took over for Paul Tagliabue. In a 12-month period extending from 2013 to 2014, the league compensated Goodell to the tune of $44.2 million.
There are other signs that Goodell is an effective leader. The Buffalo Bills, ranked by Forbes as football’s 31st most valuable franchise, sold for more than $1.1 billion on Tuesday – a price that surpasses the 2008 record set by the sale of the Miami Dolphins.
“With a team-friendly [collective bargaining agreement] in place for another seven years, record broadcast contracts kicking in and all franchises now valued over $1 billion, these are salad days for NFL owners,” said ESPN contributor and Wharton School of Business professor Andrew Brandt. “While some could say anyone could steward such prosperity, the owners's view is that [Goodell] is doing so and deserves a lion's share of the credit. He is very safe.”
Given the league’s unprecedented prosperity, Goodell’s position at the top of the NFL seems secure. However, the backlash caused by the admission that neither Goodell nor any other top executive watched the Rice elevator surveillance footage before he received a two-game suspension in July suggests that the public’s perception of the NFL isn’t as rosy as its financial prosperity would seem to convey.
Regardless of previous success, continued mishandling of the league’s domestic violence or concussion scandals – or the rise of a new, unforeseen issue – could cause public discontent to reach a critical mass that would necessitate Goodell’s resignation.
“In any evolution of a crisis, there comes a time when those facts get overrun by public opinion or congressional intrigue. I think there been enough questionable things for the NFL within the last year on [Goodell’s] watch,” said Ervin Hill Strategy president and crisis management expert Daniel Hill. “It’s like a cup that’s getting full, and even a small issue can cause the cup to overflow. His cup is pretty close to full if it’s not already, and if the league has another big mishap or something that causes a negative reaction, I think it will come that time that he has to step down.”