Monday, April 5, 2010

An Open Letter to Commissioner Goodell

Dear Commissioner Goodell,

My name is Laura Hogensen, and I’m a female NFL fan.

It shouldn’t surprise you that your league has females who follow it just as avidly as males. If you’ve been studying the recent viewer and fan trends of the league that you govern, you are hopefully aware that females comprise 58 million of the 138 million NFL fans in this country. The number of women who tune into the Super Bowl has climbed 8% over the past decade. Over 40 million of us watched the Super Bowl this year, up from a record-setting 38.3 million for the 2009 Super Bowl. Female viewership influences the television spots and even the products of the companies that sponsor your teams and purchase ads during your games. And this fan base only stands to grow larger.

So, as a loyal female fan, as someone that’s purchased tickets to your games, followed your players, bought your products, and never fails to tune in each Thursday, Monday, and especially Sunday, I need you to do something for me – for us.

Talk to Ben Roethlisberger. Schedule the meeting with him that you promised you would. Because frankly, Commissioner? It’s starting to look like violence against women isn’t all that important to you.

During your time as NFL commissioner, you’ve maintained that player misconduct is intolerable. You made it a policy to meet with players accused of misconduct before a police investigation was even concluded. You’ve taken a hard-line stance against players who choose to flout the rules and code of the National Football League, often suspending them before they’ve even been convicted in a court of law.

You took this stance with Adam “Pacman” Jones three years ago, suspending him for a season after allegations of his involvement in a shooting at a Las Vegas strip club surfaced. You sat down with Pacman immediately, and suspended him within a week of that meeting. And all of this action took place two months before Vegas police officially charged Pacman with any wrongdoing.

That same year, you also suspended the late Chris Henry for eight games after multiple violations of the NFL conduct policy. In a statement about your decision to suspend both players, you said:

"We must protect the integrity of the NFL. The highest standards of conduct must be met by everyone in the NFL because it is a privilege to represent the NFL, not a right. These players, and all members of our league, have to make the right choices and decisions in their conduct on a consistent basis."

In the 2009 case of Plaxico Burress, who accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a New York nightclub, then tried to lie about his identity at the hospital he was taken to, you suspended him indefinitely before his case was concluded in court. You did this because the case, which was brought forth in July, had been delayed until September, and you felt it was necessary for the league to take action before this time.

Though you waited for the justice system to deliver a final verdict before suspending NFL quarterback, Michael Vick, you barred him from training camp while the investigation was in progress.

You wrote Vick a letter, telling him: "While it is for the criminal justice system to determine your guilt or innocence, it is my responsibility as commissioner of the National Football League to determine whether your conduct, even if not criminal, nonetheless violated league policies, including the Personal Conduct Policy."

Commissioner, I want you to pay attention to this list of disciplinary action not because you got it wrong, but because you got it right. You should have suspended each of these players as soon as you received sufficient evidence that they had committed wrongdoing. Your actions with Jones, Henry, Burress, and Vick were a statement that the NFL does not tolerate guns, violence, or misbehavior of any kind. You stated that it is your “responsibility as commissioner of the National Football League” to discipline players when their “conduct, even if not criminal … violate[s] league policies.” You’ve been so vocal and so responsive in the past that now, your silence on the Roethlisberger case has become deafening.

You’ve done nothing; you’ve released nothing since you stated on March 23 that you planned to meet with Roethlisberger. You can’t hide behind the fact that the investigation hasn’t been completed yet. You met with other players immediately following the mere whiff of allegations of wrongdoing. You can’t say that Roethlisberger hasn’t damaged the “integrity of the NFL.” He’s been accused of sexual assault twice in the past year.

You’ve taken no real action up to this point concerning Roethlisberger, himself. And you’ve refused to acknowledge this case in the media for over two weeks. Is it because you don’t consider this case to be as serious as the others you’ve passed judgment on? Is the alleged assault of a 20-year-old woman in the bathroom of a nightclub not a graver situation than a self-inflicted gunshot wound? Is Michael Vick’s attempted cover-up of his involvement in dog fighting more heinous to you than Roethlisberger and his entourage’s attempts to obfuscate what happened in that Georgia nightclub?

Did you know that the accuser’s friend tried to remove her drunken companion from the bathroom where Roethlisberger allegedly committed the assault? Were you aware that Roethlisberger’s entourage prevented the friend from seeing the accuser, even though she stated repeatedly that the accuser was drunk? Have you noticed that Roethlisberger has refused to cooperate with Georgia police by giving a second interview?

Tread very carefully, here, Commissioner. Your actions or lack thereof will define not only your views on Roethlisberger’s conduct, but the NFL’s views on women as a whole. These are not charges that should be dismissed by you, even if they end up being dismissed by the law. The NFL should not be tolerant of abuse or misconduct against women, and action should be taken against players who make this kind of behavior a pattern – even an alleged one.

The disciplinary action that Roethlisberger deserves is up to you. This is your league, and your judgment. But the first step, the step that’s long overdue, is a face-to-face meeting with Roethlisberger. You’re not just representing the male members and fans of this league; you’re also representing the NFL’s female fans - all 58 million of us.

Do the right thing.


Laura Hogensen

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