In one of Roger Goodell's most important decisions as NFL commissioner, he abdicated his responsibility to society and to women in favor of a policy of ignorance. After Ray Rice allegedly knocked out his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City casino and dragged her out of an elevator, Goodell suspended the Baltimore Ravens running back for a meager two games.
It's irrelevant that Rice was previously seen as a role model and had no criminal record: What he allegedly did is despicable and unacceptable. Goodell dropped the ball when it mattered most, and as football fans, we should be furious and disappointed.
This is not the first time that Goodell, now in his ninth season on the job, has failed to lower the boom. The 55-year-old commissioner has suspended just one player under his personal conduct policy over the past two seasons, and he has yet to hammer down on San Francisco linebacker Aldon Smith after gun and DUI arrests. But when it comes to other policy violations, the league is quicker to levy punishments. Josh Gordon faces a potential season-long suspension for smoking weed. There's also Terrelle Pryor, who was suspended five games for memorabilia violations ... from his Ohio State playing days. And how about in 2006, when Albert Haynesworth stomped on the head of an opposing player and received a five-game suspension?
Then there's Ben Roethlisberger, who ultimately received a four-game suspension after being accused of sexual assault. Goodell actually meted out the punishment in that case before it had fully played out in the courts, but he now seems willing to wait on the legal system before passing judgment on others: He's done nothing about Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who currently faces two misdemeanor charges after a March arrest on suspicion of driving under the influence, and he's been a ghost about Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam, whose company agreed to pay a $92 million penalty for defrauding customers.
Leaders inevitably face challenges that test their true leadership skills. And Goodell, faced with disciplining a player over one of the most inexcusable acts a man can commit, just didn't act strongly enough as a leader. His decision was not just one of leniency, but perhaps more importantly, of convenience. Rice deserved far more than a slap on the wrist -- which is precisely what a two-game suspension represents. Goodell routinely gives four-game suspensions to players that violate the NFL's drug bans; this might be part of the league's official policy on substance abuse, but it sends the message that using drugs is a far worse offense than hitting a woman.
Goodell will surely face an onslaught of other significant issues, given that the league is now full-steam-ahead on dealing with concussion woes, and may even be rolling out HGH testing. But Goodell seems to have forgotten that about 50 percent of the NFL's fans are women, according to the league's own claims -- and if he wants to do the right thing, and also doesn't want to alienate half his fanbase, he has the responsibility to set it in stone that violence against women is unacceptable in his league. His decision about Ray Rice marked a real opportunity for him to live up to his "enforcer" nickname when the league needed it the most, and he failed. And that's not something we should soon forget.