The knee-jerk reaction to the NFL’s paltry $50,000 punishment for Brett Favre is outrage. Players get fined $75,000 for tackles that are slightly out of line, $25,000 for tweeting when they shouldn’t, but Favre only gets $50,000 for sexual harassment.
However, Favre wasn’t fined for sexual harassment; he was fined because he didn’t cooperate with a league investigation. Favre isn’t guilty of sexual harassment, at least not under any reasonable burden of proof. According to a league statement, despite hiring forensic experts, they were unable to definitively link the crotch shots Deadspin published with Favre. All that’s left are some flirtatious – but certainly not salacious – voicemails.
While everyone is so eager to take down Favre, we can’t argue with the NFL abiding by America’s belief in presuming innocence until guilt is proven. It’s much easier to take the NFL to task for delaying the decision so long.
But as tempting as the theories of Favre favoritism are, the NFL probably would have liked to handle this situation as quickly as possible. PR 101 mandates that companies move forward from scandalous incidents as quickly as possible. But the NFL lingered for 83 days, while the story took on a life of its own.
That’s because the NFL had to conduct a thorough investigation from scratch. Deadspin offered no starting point. It simply got the tip and paid for details and evidence. While that satisfies their own standard of proof, it doesn’t do so in a legal setting.
To satisfy that greater burden of proof, Commissioner Roger Goodell met with Sterger, Favre, and anyone else who would cooperate. And that wasn’t as easy as it could have been. Sterger initially balked at a meeting, and Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio wouldn’t offer any detail beyond what was published. Between Jets officials, Sterger, Favre, lawyers, forensics experts, and others, a lot of testimony went into an already complicated decision.
Granted, 83 days is too long. But Goodell undoubtedly wanted to see whether Sterger filed a lawsuit – it’s no coincidence that the punishment was announced a day after New Jersey’s two year statute of limitations passed – and it’s difficult to blame him for that. He had trouble finding proof despite nearly three months of searching, and he wanted to see whether the courts would have better luck. You have to tread delicately with sexual harassment allegations.
The NFL handled this situation terribly, but there’s little else Goodell could have done. He knows the league already has a bad reputation with women, and he probably wanted to exact a hefty punishment to put his foot down once and for all. But without proof, it’s irresponsible to act on that urge.
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