“There has been a little bit of an old boys network in terms of how [the NFL] operates,” Obama said on ESPN Radio's “The Herd with Colin Cowherd.” “There have been some blind spots that are rooted not just in pro football but dating back to college football and certain behaviors have been tolerated historically that really should not have been tolerated. Hopefully this is a wake-up call.”
Rice, a star running back formerly with the Baltimore Ravens, was arrested in February on simple assault charges for an incident involving his then-fiancee, now-wife Janay Rice. Rice was later indicted on aggravated assault charges, but applied for a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders that could eventually clear him of the charges.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell initially gave Rice a two-game suspension, which was widely criticized for being too lenient. Goodell then made the suspension indefinite after a graphic video of Rice punching his fiance became public this summer.
Rice appealed the indefinite suspension and was reinstated by the NFL late last month after an arbitrator ruled that the player had been punished twice for the same offense.
"The NFL was behind the curve as a lot of institutions have been behind the curve in sending a clear message," Obama said during the radio appearance meant to promote sign-ups for health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. "You don't want to be winging it when something like this happens. You want to have clear policies in place."
The league announced Wednesday a new personal conduct policy that includes more specific guidelines on how domestic violence cases will be handled.
"The fact that policies have now been established I think will be helpful in sending a message that there's no place for that kind of behavior in society, whether it's in sports or any place else," Obama said.
The NFL responded, ""We greatly appreciate the president’s endorsement of our new conduct policy."