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The Week In Sports: Serious Problems For The NFL

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It's the third week of the football season but it's been hard to pay attention at the games as each day seems to bring a new report about domestic violence or child abuse by an NFL player. The commissioner Roger Goodell held a press conference yesterday saying he got it wrong when he initially suspended Ray Rice for just a couple of games after he punched out the woman who's now his wife. But last night, ESPN reported that the Baltimore Ravens may have known about the assault within hours.

We're joined now by our man Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Howard, thanks for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, Scott.

SIMON: What's the significance of this latest report?

BRYANT: Well, to me, I think the significance of it is once again, you're seeing the total cowardice of the powers that be the people that are supposed to be in charge. You're looking for leadership, and instead, you're seeing the details of Kevin Van Valkenburg and Don Van Natta's story on ESPN yesterday - just devastating in terms of what their motivation was. Their motivation was the minute this event took place, to protect their player - which obviously is not necessarily revelatory when it comes to a corporation, a billion dollar thing, a football team, because all we do is talk about how winning is the only thing that matters. But to see it so starkly and to have it take place over the - you know, over the course of several months and to have both the commissioner and to have the organization, the Baltimore Ravens, make it sound as though the videotape was revelatory, it wasn't. What it really was, was an organized campaign on their part to do what professional sports teams always do, which is to put winning over everything.

SIMON: Seven NFL players have been arrested on domestic violence charges in just over a year. When the commissioner says we're forming personal conduct committee, we're helping this hotline, we're going to have more training, does it sound to you like he's trying to reform a mess or just lose things in a muddle?

BRYANT: Well, it sounds to me like everything that is taking place right now is taking place because of a good thing, and that good thing isn't his leadership. The good thing is public pressure. The good thing is that when that two game suspension for Ray Rice was announced, women's groups, everyone, so much - so many people realized how wrong this was and they were outraged and they said something. And everything he's done has been reactive. I don't view it as leadership. I don't think we're going to find leadership on this issue. I think we're going to have to wait for the next issue because right now, everything he's doing has been reactive. There's no way to get ahead of this because it's already too late.

So the question's going to be, what do they learn from this? How much leadership do they show? And right now, what they've shown is that they're completely behind on these issues and only public exposure has changed this narrative.

SIMON: Howard, as you know, I'm a fan. I can't watch the games.

BRYANT: It's hard to watch.

SIMON: It's just not entertainment for me now. I'm sorry.

BRYANT: You know, Scott, it's really interesting because this is a - it's cumulative. It was hard last year. It was harder the year before. You're talking about Dave Duerson's suicide and Junior Seau's suicide and concussions and dementia and head trauma and the injuries and the fact that the life expectancy of these players is 20 years to 25 years less than the average guy eating potato chips on his couch - and these guys are world-class athletes, to show you what this does to your body. Then add to it the lack of leadership. Add to it the fact that these players are having so many problems in terms of being able to turn off their aggressions when they get off of the field, it makes it really difficult when you put all of it together. And I really wonder if this is finally the tipping point that makes people say, you know, I don't really enjoy this anymore even though the money keeps rolling in.

SIMON: Howard Bryant of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine speaking with us from the studios of Dominican Public Radio. Thanks so much.

BRYANT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.