Like any good business, the National Football League does everything it can to protect its assets. However, there often comes a time when the economic interests of a company conflicts with its basic ethical code. In recent months, the NFL has established that they value business over maintaining the integrity of the league.  

Given the recent domestic violence scandals surrounding the NFL’s most important assets, its players, the questions which must be addressed are “to what extent can and should a business go to protect their assets?” and “who is responsible for holding that business accountable if they go too far?” Many have been asking these questions in regards to Roger Goodell, the embattled commissioner of the NFL who has been widely criticized for his apparent mishandling domestic violence cases in recent months involving five NFL players. 

Two of those five (Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice) are considered to be the faces of their respective franchises and are integral to the success of the teams and by extension, the league. 

The criticism started flooding in when Goodell gave Ray Rice, the running back for the Baltimore Ravens, a two game suspension for assaulting his then-fiancée in an elevator in Atlantic City’s Revel Casino in February. Critics pointed out that Goodell had given much harsher punishments to players for seemingly less egregious offenses. Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns was given a year-long suspension (which was recently reduced to ten games) for having marginally more marijuana in his urine sample than allowed. Goodell defended the decision in a press conference on Sept. 19 by claiming that Rice gave him an ambiguous account of what took place in the elevator during a meeting on June 16. 

According to an exposé by ESPN’s Outside The Lines, several unidentified sources claim that Rice told Goodell the truth about what happened in the elevator in the meeting. Even if Goodell is being truthful about the meeting, a two-game suspension is still much too lenient in light of the original video, which Goodell did have access to and which shows Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator. The constant lies and extreme lack of transparency from Goodell and his subordinates seem to warrant some kind of action by those who are responsible for holding him accountable: the owners of NFL teams. However, the owners have not called for a vote, and the commissioner recently stated that he has no reason to believe that his job is in jeopardy. 

There is a troubling trend in this country of corporations not being held accountable for their actions. It is unexplainable, for example, how federal bank regulators have not taken any of the banks responsible for the Great Recession to trial despite the fact that The Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, created by Congress in 2009 to examine the causes of the recession, found that mortgage fraud on the part of the banks was a significant factor which caused the collapse. 

Federal regulators have instead made it their policy to reach settlements with the banks. However, those settlements are often smaller than the sum of the profits the banks received while partaking in the illegal activities. 

This practice effectively validates the actions of the banks by allowing them to walk away from the situation with a net gain. 

Similarly, by not holding Roger Goodell accountable for his lies and lack of leadership, the NFL owners are validating his actions and, by extension, the actions of those he failed to appropriately discipline.

In response to the recent NFL scandals, Senator Corey Booker (D-NJ) has reintroduced legislation that would remove the tax-exempt status of the league office, which is currently counted as a nonprofit. The revenue generated by the tax would go toward state domestic abuse programs. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has introduced the legislation multiple times in the past but has repeatedly been unable to gain any cosponsors. The legislation is unpopular because most Senators seem more interested in preventing losses of revenue for teams in their states than providing an incentive for the league to act morally. Whether this is due to campaign contributions or other ties between politicians and the teams in their states/districts, it is clear that Congress puts profits over justice and integrity just as the owners do. 

This reluctance to dole out punishment displayed by the league, the owners and our government is a testament to the trend of valuing business over morality. Adrian Peterson, one of the best players in the league and the face of the Minnesota Vikings franchise, was only suspended by his team for beating his four-year-old son with a small tree branch after a sponsor, Anheuser Busch, issued a statement harshly criticizing the league’s conduct. Despite being arrested for domestic violence in August, San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald remains on the active roster and has not been disciplined by his team or the league office. The lack of discipline in his case may be a result of the fact that he is not as high-profile of a player as Peterson or Rice are, and therefore the league will not receive as much criticism for the situation. It is unjust to have a code of conduct predicated on the best interests of the business rather than those of the victims.

The lack of action on the part of the NFL during the recent scandals is a sign that the system must be changed. 

It has become abundantly clear that additional checks to the league’s power need to be put in place, and those checks cannot be other corporate heads who share the same business interests as the NFL. The league must establish an independent regulatory commission to monitor the actions of the league office.

Like any good business, the NFL does its best to protect its assets, and like any fair society, we must ensure that we can hold businesses accountable when they act unjustly in their attempts to protect those assets.