NFL Domestic Violence Issues—What Next?


The NFL has had a bad few weeks dealing with continuing domestic violence issues. Commissioner Roger Goodell has received a lot of unwanted attention regarding his handling of the Ray Rice case, in particular. Cooley law professor Ron Sutton discusses the problems in this report.

Prof. Ron Sutton

Prof. Ron Sutton

There have been calls for Goodell to resign, but Sutton believes that circumspection is in order. Sutton feels that Goodell has been inept in his handling of the whole domestic violence problem, but “whether or not he should be retained is up to . . . the owners.” Sutton does not think it likely that the owners will seek Goodell’s resignation absent some additional circumstances.

The NFL Players Association has appealed Rice’s suspension, claiming that he is being punished twice for the same offense. The NFL position is that the information the original information that was the basis of Rice’s two game suspension was incomplete, and the stiffer action came about after Goodell saw the tape. This raises a number of questions about when Goodell saw the tape, whether refused to see it earlier, etc.

Sutton suggests that a person in Goodell’s position would probably look at what law enforcement does in situations like this and take his cue from that, but Sutton believes that was the wrong thing to do (if that is what Goodell did). He should have done just the opposite of what a diversion program would do, in Sutton’s opinion.

The result of the Rice case has invited comparisons between how the NFL handles substance abuse and how they handle domestic abuse. Sutton suggests that the NFL is moving in the right direction to improve things. They have brought in domestic violence advisors “to oversee and advise them on domestic violence issues.”  Sutton feels the NFL needs to do more education of players.

Ronald R. Sutton is a professor and assistant dean at Cooley Law School. Before joining the full-time faculty in 2012, Professor Sutton was an adjunct professor at Cooley, winning the Frederick J. Griffith III Adjunct Faculty Award in 2007. In his legal career, Professor Sutton served as the Deputy Circuit/Probate Court Administrator-Attorney Referee for the 56th Judicial Circuit Court in Eaton County, Mich., 2000-2011. Previously, he was president of Sutton Sports Management Co, 1998-2010, where he was involved with worldwide representation of professional basketball players, coaches and broadcasters. Before that, he was an attorney-shareholder with Fraser, Trebilcock, Davis & Dunlap, PD, 1979-1998. His areas of practice included commercial litigation, insurance law, family law, and sports law. Professor Sutton is a member of the State Bar of Michigan and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan. The Legal Broadcast Network is a featured network of the Sequence Media Group.