How Condoleezza Rice Can Fix Football
Yes, in a perfect world, this debacle would result in a completely transformational shift inside the organization. Monday's leak of the graphic video of Rice beating his wife further highlighted a complete lack of integrity and leadership, traits that Goodell constantly touts as the league's signature attributes. In cutting Rice from the team and suspending him indefinitely, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL were blatantly reactive, their hands forced only when the public saw Rice's fist connecting with a woman's face.
But we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world in which a domestic abuse victim can't expect adequate protection from the criminal justice system, let alone the NFL. We live in a world in which 32 wealthy men seem to wield unrelenting power over their players and fans, despite their businesses' ostensible dependency on those very same players and fans. We live in a world in which those fans will give a wife-beating player a standing ovation and ignore decades of institutional incompetency and negligence just for the privilege of watching America's Game.
So you'll excuse me if I'm just a bit cynical to our prospects of actually ousting Goodell, or even that it would actually result in any change for the better. His resignation, unlikely as it is, would simply be the act of a martyr falling on the sword to protect an omnipotent, dysfunctional institution, while maintaining the power structures that be (and having more time to enjoy his $44 million payout). Real change, realistic change, will have to come within the existing framework of the league. And as it pertains to the domestic violence issue, that must start with more female executives in the NFL.
Condoleezza Rice has made no secret that she's wanted to be commissioner for more than a decade, and the Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart terms her "the one person who could save the NFL." Few people, let alone women, have as stacked a resume as Rice's, and she's the most powerful woman to publicly, seriously state her desire for the job. That said, she didn't exactly have a stellar record as secretary of state, and I have serious reservations about the capacity and willingness of someone who supported the Romney/Ryan stance on women's issues and was so dismissive of the "war on women."
Former Oakland Raiders chief executive officer Amy Trask, once considered the "most powerful woman in football," is another intriguing prospect. She became the face of the front office following the death of legendary owner Al Davis, and was long considered to be the most likely candidate to become the first female general manager in sports. Yet she, too, has been averse to talking explicitly about gender, most likely a survival tactic that allowed her to reach unprecedented heights in a male-dominated industry.
But since history has given us no indication that the league would force Goodell's resignation, I have another suggestion: Hire these women in an independent, advisory role, a sort of NFL ombudsman. The league has proved incapable of policing itself, and has also shown itself to be completely tone-deaf when it comes to women's issues. In lieu of radical change, a system of checks and balances featuring a more inclusive female element wouldn't just shift the way the NFL discusses and acts on domestic violence -- it would show that the league really intends to fix itself.
Two weeks ago, when Goodell announced sweeping changes to the personal conduct policy as it relates to domestic violence offenses, victims' advocates and feminist sportswriters commended him on showing a willingness to consult outside women's groups in forming the new rules. Yesterday's leak rightfully called into question whether the NFL was really capable of putting that policy in place, yet again highlighting the need for an independent review that can dissipate some of Goodell's concentrated power while bringing more women to the table.
The NFL actually has a cautionary lesson from another near-omnipotent organization that demonstrated what not to do with an independent arbiter on women's issues. In 2006, ESPN fired baseball analyst Harold Reynolds after a female colleague accused him of sexual harassment. Then-ombudsman George Solomon did a fine job of toeing the party line, reiterating company policy not to comment on confidential personnel matters. One wonders if a female ombudsman would have taken the issue more seriously.
Contrary to Capeheart and others, the Rice incident has not put the league on the brink of collapse -- when the games start on Sunday, things will be largely back to normal. Still, taking the long view, it's clear that the NFL simply can't accept the status quo. From a business standpoint, companies benefit greatly from having women in the boardroom, and the league in particular could use some real leadership that isn't beholden solely to the interests of its owners and reputation. If the NFL will only react to outside pressure, maybe it's time to institutionalize a watchdog that can keep a constant eye on what's happening behind the Shield.
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