The NFL's Updated Domestic Violence Policy Gets Its First Test

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Coach Jim Harbaugh stands next to Ray McDonald during a preseason game. McDonald was arrested over the weekend on suspicion of domestic violence.

NEW YORK -- When we obtained a letter from Roger Goodell to NFL owners Thursday detailing a host of new measures and penalties dealing with domestic violence, who knew the first test of the new system would come so soon?

Over Labor Day weekend, San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic assault. McDonald posted bail and spoke briefly as he left the Santa Clara Sheriff's Department.

"I can't say too much, not right now, but the truth will come out. Everybody knows the kind of person that I am," McDonald said. "I'm a good-hearted person."

The arrest starts the NFL's disciplinary process under the personal conduct policy. The league is conducting its own investigation and could choose to suspend McDonald for six games or longer if there are extenuating circumstances, such as if the woman is pregnant. More importantly, McDonald would not need to be found guilty of a charge in a court of law in order for the NFL to consider it a first offense.

If the NFL finds the arrest was in error or that something else took place, it can close the case without issuing a penalty.

It's an important moment for the league and its updated policy, as precedent will be established either way.

It's important to put a backbone into the policy, but equally important that innocent men and women (all NFL employees are subject to the policy) aren't wrongly penalized.

Earlier this season, there was an accusation made against Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch, but local police later cleared him.

Still, there is a different tone now than in the immediate aftermath of Ray Rice's arrest. Ravens coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome always took a supportive tone, even after the video leaked of Rice dragging his unconscious then-girlfriend out of the elevator.

In this case, it may be better to hold off on the "good guy" comments until after McDonald is exonerated, should that be the case.

According to 49ers safety Donte Whitner, coach Jim Harbaugh told players he found domestic abuse unacceptable.

"He said that we can do anything in the world and we can come and talk to him and he'll forgive us except put our hands on women," Whitner told the Sacramento Bee in 2012. "If you put your hand on a woman, then you're done in his book."

Harbaugh hasn't held a press conference on the arrest yet, but did address it on his weekly radio appearance on KNBR on Tuesday.

"There's going to be two principles at play here, and one is, I'll speak for myself, I'll speak for the 49ers, we will not tolerate domestic violence," Harbaugh said. "Second principle is we're firm believers in due process. And I ask for your understanding on those two principles."

This is where the change in tone can start, however. It's a serious -- and yet unproven -- allegation. The new changes to the policy should give everyone a reason to take a deep breath before making a statement that implies culpability on the part of an alleged victim.

Changing the way that these situations are dealt with -- which has often meant unqualified support for a player no matter how bad the circumstances on a police report -- is important as these new measures are rolled out.

That said, so is getting it right and ensuring a sense of fairness in the process. This is a tricky moment for the NFL, and one that everyone is watching.

Other things on my mind this week:


I haven't gotten tired of this yet: During Andy Murray's matches, when television cameras cut to the woman in his player box, it's to coach Amelie Mauresmo. Of course your gender doesn't matter in coaching, but it's still so rare to see a woman coaching a man on the ATP Tour that it's a big deal. Now if Murray could just win the next six straight majors, you'd probably see it more.


So much of NFL evaluations are judgment calls. But when you have 2.5 sacks in the preseason, as rookie Michael Sam did, you don't have to rely on subjective evaluations. So it's completely mysterious as to how he would get cut -- and not picked up. Or, not so mysterious. As Adam Schefter noted, of the 12 rookies with his stats, 10 are on a roster and one is on a practice squad.

I'm so tired of hearing some analysts say he isn't any good when the numbers don't back that up.


Celebrity Nude Hacking Scandal! Or: Why the Internet was Probably Invented. I have two reactions to this. 1. Americans are such puritans about the naked body, and this only highlights the hypocrisy. To think that a woman famous for posing in clothing no more substantial than a triangle and string should be made to feel shamed by having a millimeter more of flesh exposed -- ridiculous. 2. That said, it's the privacy violation that matters. Everyone deserves her own digital space and gets to decide how much of her body is on public display. Notice how female celebrities get the brunt of this? Well, and Justin Verlander.

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