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Criticism Of NFL Grows In Wake Of Ray Rice Case


The National Football League and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, continue to feel the heat for the way the Ray Rice scandal has been handled. Until this week, Rice was a running back with the Baltimore Ravens. He was dropped from the team and suspended indefinitely by the league after a video showed him punching his then-fiancee unconscious. And this isn't the only domestic violence case the NFL is dealing with. Joining us now is sports writer Stefan Fatsis. Hey there, Stefan.


CORNISH: So Monday, tabloid site TMZ releases that video, and yesterday, the NFL was hiring a former FBI director to conduct an internal investigation. What's going on? What's the fallout here?

FATSIS: Well, at this point, the fallout is credibility and image. ESPN today released the results of a poll on the Rice case. Sixty-one percent said they didn't think the NFL investigated fully. Fifty-five percent said they didn't believe Roger Goodell when he said that no one in the league had seen the elevator video before Monday.

A couple of NFL sponsors said they're monitoring the case, but they trust that the league will take appropriate steps. For sponsors - for sponsors to bail, the scandal would have to be seen as a threat to the NFL's audience and to the sponsors' own reputation. We had that with Donald Sterling and that scandal in the NBA. We're not there yet with the NFL.

CORNISH: Of course, one early sign of any impact on the NFL might be television ratings. And there was a game on last night.

FATSIS: Yeah, played in Baltimore, where some fans were wearing Ray Rice jerseys. The game was the debut of a Thursday-night football deal on a broadcast network, CBS. Overnight ratings showed around 17 million viewers on CBS, plus another four on the NFL network, which simulcast the game. That is substantially less than the previous week's season opening audience of 27 million. But it was still CBS's biggest primetime audience in that slot in eight years. CBS knew that people were going to be watching closely. It toned down the hype. It handled the Rice story in a sensitive and straightforward way.

CORNISH: Now, we've been hearing comparisons, though, about how the NBA handled the Donald Sterling case versus how the NFL handled Rice. I mean, what's the take away?

FATSIS: Well, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, I think, recognized the gravity of what was happening and the threat to the league's business. And he quickly banned Sterling from the league for his racist comments. Goodell, I think, miscalculated what had happened in that elevator and the public reaction. He tried to walk back his initial mistake - Rice's two-game suspension - with a mea culpa and tougher rules. And then he was blindsided by the latest video and by conflicting reports of who knew what, when. Silver came out of the crisis looking strong. Goodell is damaged.

CORNISH: There are calls in the media and elsewhere, including from the National Organization for Women, for Commissioner Goodell to either be fired or to resign. But what will it take for the owners really to attempt to force him out?

FATSIS: Well, there have been a lot of comments that Goodell has made the owner so much money - revenue and franchise values keep climbing - that there's no way that he'd be fired. But if the investigation by former FBI director Robert Mueller doesn't exonerate him fully, and if the league starts hearing concerns from its TV and corporate sponsors, or if any other shoes drop or scandals hit, or if there's a decline in business, the NFL wouldn't be the first company to push out its chief executive in order to protect the bigger enterprise.

CORNISH: Stefan, you mentioned other shoes. There are two other pending domestic violence cases involving NFL players right now. And some news this afternoon about another NFL player in trouble with the law.

FATSIS: Yeah, Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers was arrested last month on suspicion of domestic abuse of his pregnant fiancee. He hasn't been formally charged. The Carolina Panthers Gregg Hardy, in July, was found guilty by a judge of threatening and attacking a former girlfriend. The victim said Hardy choked and threatened to kill her. He's appealed to a jury trial. Neither player's been disciplined by the league or their teams. And then late today came news that the star Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson has been indicted in Texas on charges of injuring a child. Peterson is cooperating with authorities.

CORNISH: Stefan, thanks so much for the update.

FATSIS: Thanks Audie.

CORNISH: That's Stefan Fatsis. He's the author of "A Few Seconds Of Panic: A Sports Writer Plays In The NFL." He joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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