ARENA: Rice, Dungy, Goodell dealing with fallout

Published 11:45 pm Friday, July 25, 2014

It hasn’t been the best of weeks for the NFL.

Between the Tony Dungy and Ray Rice controversies, some of the league’s most well-known faces have been tarnished in the public eye, and in the latter case, a commissioner known for meting out tough discipline fell very short of handing down what most felt would be a suitable punishment.

Starting with Rice, and this isn’t farming any new land I realize, but how can the NFL justify just a two-game suspension for domestic abuse? 

From what I’ve seen, the closest thing to a justification for the short suspension was a report by Adam Schefter indicating that Roger Goodell had been shown “more videotape than everyone else has seen.” I don’t know what reason Goodell would have to show any kind of bias toward Rice. I will say that I don’t blindly trust Goodell on this or any other matter; such is the problem when someone shows multiple times that he is not trustworthy. 

See also: the artist that brought you “I destroyed the Spygate video!” and “We have 50,000 pages of evidence that bounties existed!”

That Josh Gordon got 16 games for marijuana use juxtaposed against Rice’s two-gamer doesn’t mean much to me. It’s jolting to see it without context, but Gordon is a multi-time repeat offender. Though Rice’s crime is far worse, Gordon has an ongoing problem and has failed multiple tests; it’s just the way that program is set up. 

Still, the two games bothers me because it’s JUST TWO GAMES. His fiancé was knocked unconscious in an elevator. It’s hard to imagine that Goodell uncovered any kind of extra footage that showed this was “no big deal.” Either Rice hit her or he didn’t. If it were an accident, it would be a zero-game suspension. 

This, to quote Mike Ehrmantraut, was a half-measure, Walter. 

Tony Dungy is obviously the subject of an different type of controversy.

His comments that he would not have drafted Michael Sam ignited a media firestorm, as will any against the grain opinion on the Sam situation.

I believe Sam deserves his chance to play in the NFL. That said, while Dungy’s comments may illustrate a larger societal problem, I took his words at face value to just be the honest musings of a former coach whose stance is probably a lot closer to the rule than the exception.

Dungy even said that he, himself, believes that Sam deserves a chance to play.

He admitted that he, himself, would not want to take on the added “distraction.” In essence, Dungy admitted that he wouldn’t be inclined to do the “right” or “just” thing at the possible expense of winning football games. That puts Dungy in some populated company at the NFL level. 

I also think there was an implicit “is the juice worth the squeeze?” question at play. After all, Dungy championed the return of Michael Vick to the NFL after his return from a prison term for his role in a dogfighting ring. 

He shot himself in the foot by making those comments about Sam, and I don’t think that can be debated. Firstly, he didn’t offer nearly enough clarification or reasoning behind his initial statement. Dungy was not saying Sam deserved a chance less than Vick; but the reality of the situation is that a guy like Vick will always get second and third chances because Vick has shown extreme NFL talent and potential and plays quarterback in a league without enough of them. Sam is a late round pick who may bring more on-field questions than off. Teams will deal with “distraction” if you can help them win more than they would without you. They’ll show you the door every time if not the case. Talent is the ultimate get-out-of jail-free card, and while it’s not fair, it’s the way it is in a league where ability to win equals ability to work.

Dungy also wasn’t going to get a lot of rope on this issue simply because people know he is a devout Christian who has expressed his disagreement with homosexuality in the past. He tweeted, “I don’t agree with Jason Collins’ lifestyle but think he deserves respect and should have opportunities like anyone else!” last year after the NBA’s Collins became the first active pro athlete to come out. In 2007, he also publically endorsed a proposed gay marriage ban. Knowing this, Dungy’s comments on Sam without much context backing them left him wide open for criticism.

I don’t believe Dungy’s comments, by themselves, are bigoted. But even if he were just offering the honest musings from the perspective of a former coach trying to win at all costs, he was the wrong messenger to deliver them.