What's the penalty for all this distraction?

Goodell Should Suspend Himself Next

Stephen L. Carter is a Bloomberg View columnist. He is a professor of law at Yale University and was a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. His novels include “The Emperor of Ocean Park” and “Back Channel,” and his nonfiction includes “Civility” and “Integrity.”
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The National Football League is a business. It provides a valuable entertainment service. For the first two weeks of the 2014 season, the league has presented an exciting slate of games, with plenty of upsets and highlight plays and last-minute heroics. Unfortunately the attention of much of the public -- especially the attention of people who aren't fans -- remains on the league itself and not on the games. This diminishes the value of the product.

Even as the NFL scrambles, it isn't clear whether the league fully understands that its problem is more than just public relations. But at least teams are starting to respond. This weekend the Carolina Panthers inactivated their star defensive end Greg Hardy, who in July was convicted by a judge of assaulting his former girlfriend. The team abandoned its previously stated intention of letting the legal process play out before acting.

The Minnesota Vikings, meanwhile, inactivated for one game star running back Adrian Peterson, who returned to Texas to answer charges that he injured his son while beating him with a switch. And even if, as blogger Ann Althouse suggests, some commentators seem to be demanding that Peterson be punished "for what Ray Rice did," it seems entirely appropriate for the league to take the case seriously.

Meanwhile, the calls for Commissioner Roger Goodell to resign are mounting, and the league's choice for its outside investigator is taking flak before the investigation has begun. Against this background, the sportswriter Bill Simmons has mentioned a route by which Goodell might change the narrative: The commissioner could admit that he has become a distraction, and announce that for the good of the sport he is taking a six-month leave of absence while the investigation plays out. In the meantime, the league will donate the unearned half of his more than $40 million annual compensation to groups battling domestic violence.

Suddenly Goodell would be making a genuine sacrifice. If the investigation exonerates him, he's back in charge next year. If not, bring on Condoleezza Rice, who has said many times that running the NFL is her dream job.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Stephen L Carter at scarter01@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Michael Newman at mnewman43@bloomberg.net