As the Arizona Cardinals and New York Giants made final preparations Sunday for their NFL game, a small plane circled MetLife Stadium towing a banner that read “Goodell must go.”
Ten miles east, on Park Avenue, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and his staff had been working to restore his reputation and that of the league. Goodell was coming off the most turbulent week of his eight-year tenure following his handling of a player who knocked his fiancee unconscious.
On Monday, the commissioner sent a memo to all 32 teams, saying NFL executive Anna Isaacson will take over the newly formed job of vice president of social responsibility, and he named three outside consultants to help shape league policies on domestic violence and sexual assault. All four are women.
The memo, obtained by The Times, did not outline how Isaacson, who was vice president of community affairs and philanthropy, would develop a plan or monitor its effectiveness. It said Lisa Friel, Jane Randel and Rita Smith will work as “senior advisors.”
Friel was head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the New York County district attorney’s office for more than a decade. Randel is co-founder of No More, a national initiative to raise the profile of and normalize the conversation about domestic violence and sexual assault. Smith is the former executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
“These are top-notch people,” said Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, a Los Angeles-based sexual assault, domestic violence and youth violence prevention center. “They are known for their commitment and their expertise in domestic violence and sexual assault. They have a lot of credibility and experience, and they have access to others who can also be helpful in making this paradigm shift.”
The National Organization for Women, which has called for Goodell’s resignation, said the appointments were “a step in the right direction — but it’s not enough.”
On Isaacson, NOW said in a statement that “the fact that Roger Goodell is assigning a current member of his leadership team to oversee new policies shows once again that he just doesn’t get it.”
Another women’s advocacy group, UltraViolet, paid for the plane to tow the “Goodell must go” banner, and says it has collected more than 15,000 signatures demanding the commissioner’s resignation.
Three months ago, a video showing Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice dragging his fiancee out of an elevator resulted in a two-game suspension and criticism that Goodell was too lenient.
Last week, a second video from inside the elevator was released by TMZ showing Rice knocking the woman to the ground, then dragging her out when the doors opened. The couple has since married.
The Ravens cut Rice from the team and Goodell suspended him indefinitely. The commissioner said no one at the NFL had seen the video. The NFL was then under fire for not being more aggressive in obtaining the video.
Two days later, the Associated Press cited a law enforcement official who said the NFL did have the footage, and he produced a voicemail from someone at the NFL acknowledging its receipt.
The NFL answered that night saying former FBI director Robert Mueller would head an investigation into the handling of evidence in the Rice case, and that team owners Art Rooney of the Pittsburgh Steelers and John Mara of the Giants would oversee the process. That raised some eyebrows because Mueller’s law firm, WilmerHale, has extensive ties to the league, and Rooney and Mara are particularly close to Goodell.
The NFL Players Assn. is expected to appeal the indefinite suspension of Rice, and has until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Tuesday to do so.
Ira Kalb, assistant professor at USC’s Marshall School of Business whose expertise includes crisis management, said that Monday’s announcement should help but the key is what comes out in the investigation.
“If it shows the NFL knew what happened and then tried to cover it up ... then that’s going to really hurt their image,” Kalb said. “Some scapegoat is going to have to atone for that.”
Further complicating the situation for the league is that two other current players, Greg Hardy of the Carolina Panthers and Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers, are facing legal issues related to domestic violence.
Hardy was convicted in July by a North Carolina district judge of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. Hardy exercised his right to a jury trial, likely to take place after the season. Although the Panthers said Friday that he would play Sunday against the Detroit Lions, they deactivated him before the game.
Panthers Coach Ron Rivera said Hardy was not suspended and the club will continue to evaluate a very “fluid situation.”
“I don’t know if it was new information as much as it was changes in the climate,” Rivera said Monday.
The 49ers did not deactivate McDonald, arrested over Labor Day weekend on suspicion of domestic abuse against his pregnant fiancee. He started at defensive tackle Sunday night against Chicago.
49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday that public pressure will not sway him to deactivate McDonald until his legal issues are resolved.
The pressure on Goodell intensified as last week wore on, after Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s most valuable player in 2012, was indicted on charges he beat his 4-year-old son with a tree “switch.”
Minnesota deactivated Peterson for Sunday’s game against New England. The Vikings announced Monday they have activated Peterson this week and plan to let justice run its course.
League spokesman Brian McCarthy said Peterson’s case will be reviewed under the NFL’s personal conduct policy, with the assistance of just-hired senior advisor Friel.
Crisis management expert Larry Kamer said all the steps taken by the NFL are important, but what matters is what the NFL does with all the information gathered and whether it can translate that into meaningful change.
“There’s a lot of skepticism and cynicism and wait and see in a lot of quarters because the temperature level on this has gotten so high,” said Kamer of the Oakland-based Kamer Consulting Group, whose past clients include the San Francisco 49ers.
“Many organizations have found out the hard way that just because you hire someone because of their name or their stature or their reputation you don’t necessarily get to take their halo and put it on yourself,” Kamer said. “It does come down to visible changes in behavior and the way things are done.”