NEW YORK — Embattled NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell apologized Friday for what he said was his mishandling of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal but vowed “now I will get it right and will do whatever is necessary to accomplish that.”
Speaking at a Manhattan news conference amid calls for his resignation, Goodell announced a sweeping policy to counter domestic abuse and sexual assault, mandating all players and staff on the league’s 32 teams undergo education and training about how to prevent abuse.
The announcement came as critics have questioned why Goodell hadn’t taken a tougher stand earlier. That would have sent an unequivocal statement about domestic violence in a league that, according to a Sports Illustrated article last week, includes 14 players who have been arrested for violence against women in the past two years. Others have called for his job.
But Goodell, in his first public remarks in a week, said he would not step down and was committed to “do the right thing.”
“I’m focused on doing my job,” he told reporters. “We have a lot of work to do.”
The training and education sessions will begin within the next month, the commissioner said.
The plan is a direct response to a number of high-profile cases, including Rice’s and the release of a video showing the former Baltimore Ravens’ star knocking out his then-fiancee with a punch.
“The NFL has to take care of its house … and make sure we keep everything on the table,” said Goodell.
The commissioner also sought to further distance himself from criticism over his handling of the Rice matter, saying the account of the incident the player gave the NFL was different than what was depicted in a video.
“I’m telling you right now it’s inconsistent with what he told us,” Goodell said, declining to comment further on grounds that Rice’s indefinite suspension is under appeal by the players union.
Asked about a claim by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office that it has no record of an NFL request for information on the case, Goodell said, “We gather almost entirely all of our information through law enforcement, and that’s something else we’re going to look at … We asked for it on several occasions. According to our security department, we went through it, we asked for it on several occasions.”
Goodell said the events of recent weeks highlighted much of what is wrong with the league.
“I got it wrong in the handling of the Ray Rice matter and I’m sorry for that,” he said. “I’m not satisfied with the way we handled it from the get-go. I made a mistake. I’m not satisfied with the process we went through. I’m not satisfied with the conclusion.”
The domestic violence scandals were an opportunity for the NFL to take a lead in dealing with the issue, Goodell said.
“We recognize domestic violence and sexual assault exists everywhere in every community, economic class, racial and ethnic group,” he said. “We cannot solve them by ourselves. Law enforcement, criminal justice system, social service organizations and families are the cornerstones to addressing this problem.”
Katie Ray-Jones, president and CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, told CNN after Goodell’s remarks that the league made a multimillion dollar commitment to the hotline.
“He’s admitting that he made a mistake and he’s working to correct it and they’re engaging many voices,” she said of Goodell and the league. “They’re engaging many voices to make sure that they get it right and that this is a teachable moment for many people in America.”
But NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton on CNN Friday said he was doubtful of the league’s willingness to deal with domestic violence and other troubles.
“Are we going to allow men to knock out women, abuse women, knock out children and we’re going to have to wait six months to get spin control and get some people in here and buy out some more people?” he said. “I played for 18 years in this league. I’ve seen coverups in this league just like we see in Washington and on Wall Street. And it continues.”
Tarkenton said NFL team owners — not Goodell — had the power to bring about change.
“The 32 owners have him by the neck,” Tarkenton said of the commissioner. “You see them on the sidelines. Their necks are popping out and they’re patting people on the back and they’re so excited about winning, and they’re looking the other way because in their locker room … we have people abusing kids and abusing women and they’re doing illegal drugs to make them bigger, faster.”
When Goodell took the helm of the nation’s most popular sport in 2006, he was widely expected to mold and protect the reputation and well-being of a sports league both profitable and prosperous yet tarnished by the misbehavior of some of its biggest stars.
But eight years later, the executive many call the most powerful man in sports has been seemingly blindsided by the release of the video showing Rice punching Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino and then dragging her out, unconscious.
Goodell, once viewed as a no-holds-barred enforcer who was called in to clean house, had levied a mere two-game suspension, based on an initial video from outside the elevator that only showed Rice dragging Palmer out. Later, the new footage that showed the punch prompted Goodell to suspend the veteran player indefinitely.
The commissioner told CBS News on Tuesday that he was sickened by what he saw on the second Rice video. He insisted that that was the first time he or anyone in NFL headquarters had seen the full scope of the February incident.
He also deflected criticism of his handling of Rice’s case and his initial penalty.
When asked earlier this month whether he really needed to see a video of the knockout punch to decide the length of Rice’s punishment, the commissioner said, “No.”
“What we saw in the first videotape was troubling to us in and of itself,” Goodell said then, referring to another video that surfaced in February after the incident, showing Rice dragging his then-fiancee out of the elevator. “But what we saw (on the new video) was extremely clear. It was extremely graphic and it was sickening.”
Late Thursday, Goodell sent a memo to teams announcing a partnership with the National Domestic Violence Hotline as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC). The league will provide financial and promotional support to both groups.
”These commitments will enable both the hotline and NSVRC to help more people affected by domestic violence and sexual assault,” Goodell said in the memo.
Last week, amid mounting criticism, the league announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller will lead an independent inquiry into the league’s investigation and how it gathered evidence in the case.
Mueller will have access to all NFL records, according to league spokesman Greg Aiello. Two NFL owners who are attorneys — John Mara of the New York Giants and Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers — will oversee the independent investigation.
The National Organization for Women called Mueller’s appointment “just window dressing,” saying it didn’t go far enough.
“NOW continues to ask 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 entire NFL community — not just regarding the Ray Rice incident — and to recommend real and lasting reforms,” said NOW President Terry O’Neill.
The NFL has also said it is looking into an Associated Press report that a league executive in April received from a law enforcement official a copy of the second video, showing the punch that knocked Janay Rice
The law enforcement official had a short voice mail from April 9 in which someone calling from a number at an NFL office thanks the official, the AP reported. The caller says of the video, “You’re right. It’s terrible,” according to the AP.
The league has denied that anyone in its office had seen the video before it was posted online.
In August, in the wake of criticism over the two-game suspension for Rice, Goodell announced that the NFL had established a six-game unpaid ban for personnel who violate the league’s policy on domestic violence.
A second incident would be punished by a lifetime ban from the league, Goodell said in a letter and memo to the owners of the league’s 32 teams.
Without referring to Rice by name, Goodell acknowledged in his letter that he made the wrong decision in that case.
“I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will,” he wrote.
Goodell said circumstances that would warrant a longer suspension include incidents that predate a person’s time with an NFL team or acts that involve choking, repeated blows or a weapon. They also include violence against a pregnant woman or in view of child.
Lifetime bans may be appealed after a year.
Goodell’s letter asked teams to distribute a memo about the new policy to each player and all members of the organizations.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy states that employees are “held to a higher standard” of conduct.
“Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime,” the policy states.
In a memo Goodell sent to teams on Monday, the commissioner said he will work with four women “on the development and implementation of the league’s policies, resources and outreach on issues of domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The memo followed a tumultuous week for the man at the helm of the NFL. With Ray Rice suspended indefinitely for hitting his then-fiancee in an elevator, the league saw three more of its players come under scrutiny over domestic violence or child abuse allegations. Two of those players were deactivated for their Sunday games.
Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was deactivated after an East Texas grand jury indicted him on a child abuse charge. Peterson’s lawyer has said his client is innocent, and the Minnesota Vikings’ owners announced that Peterson will return to practice this week and is scheduled to play Sunday.
“While I am disappointed in what Adrian Peterson was involved with, we want to see the facts,” Goodell told reporters on Friday. “What we have to do is allow those facts to succeed.”