WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The National Football League (NFL) “failed” in its efforts to police domestic abuse by its players but has “learned from those mistakes,” a top NFL executive testified to Congress on Tuesday.
Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president for football operations, conceded that the case involving Ray Rice was handled poorly.
“The commissioner (Roger Goodell) has acknowledged those mistakes,” Vincent told a packed hearing by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
“We failed. This is all part of our evaluation as we look at a new personal conduct policy ... But we learned from those mistakes.”
Representatives of the four major U.S. sports were on hand at the hearing on domestic abuse although none of the commissioners were present and only one of the top players’ union officials, Michele Roberts of the National Basketball Association.
Domestic abuse has been a flashpoint issue ever since the NFL’s handling of the Rice case, in which Goodell suspended the former Baltimore Ravens running back for two games for knocking out his fiancée, who later became his wife.
Only when graphic video emerged showing him knocking out his then-fiancee did the Ravens release him and the NFL suspend him indefinitely.
Repealing the NFL’s tax-exempt status and favorable anti-trust position was discussed by the senators should the league fail to implement an effective domestic abuse policy.
“When young people see athletes committing acts of violence, and when those acts are excused, glossed over, and given pathetically weak punishments, they learn that domestic violence is not taken seriously,” said Connecticut Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, a West Virginia Democrat, said he knew of six NBA players who were charged with domestic violence recently but not sanctioned by the league because there were no convictions.
“The Commissioner (Adam Silver) has acknowledged that we need to do more in this issue in terms of discipline going forward,” said Kathleen Behrens, the NBA’s executive vice president for social responsibility.
“Mostly in terms of due process and not really relying on the criminal justice system,” she added.
Vincent, who played in the NFL for 15 years, broke down when discussing his childhood.
“Domestic violence was a way of life in my home growing up,” he said. “My brother and I watched helplessly numerous times as my mother was beaten and knocked unconscious while we dialed 911.”
“We saw how she struggled to seek help and find the courage to say ‘no more’.”
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Sandra Maler