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Women's group flies banners over NFL games, demands Goodell step down

UltraViolet wants the league commissioner to step down over his handling of Ray Rice domestic-abuse case

A women’s rights group flew aerial banners calling for the resignation of National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell at an Arizona Cardinals–New York Giants game on Sunday at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium.

UltraViolet, an online community of over 500,000 women, accused Goodell in a statement of “blatantly deceptive behavior” for his handling of a domestic-violence scandal involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

"The banners come as activists are outraged over NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s blatantly deceptive behavior in the handling of Ray Rice’s domestic violence conviction and subsequent penalties," the statement said.

"More than 15,000 UltraViolet members have already signed on to a petition calling for Goodell’s resignation in light of new evidence that the Commissioner had graphic video evidence and a verbal confession concerning the Ray Rice assault, but failed to act appropriately."

In February, TMZ Sports released security camera footage of Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancé Janay Palmer from an elevator. The following month, he was indicted by a grand jury on third-degree aggravated assault charges. However, because Palmer did not testify against him, the charges were dropped.

In July, Goodell met with Rice and Palmer, who by then were married, in New York City. After which, the NFL suspended Rice for two games — a penalty that women’s rights activists, fans and even politicians criticized as being too little, too late. 

Goodell responded in August by penning a letter to NFL team owners in which he admitted, “I didn’t get it right,” and announced harsher penalties for players who are found guilty of domestic violence — including a six-week ban without pay for a first offense and league banishment for a second, although players could petition for reinstatement after one year.

Though anti-domestic violence activists welcomed the new penalties as a “positive first step,” a lengthier version of the altercation video released on Sept. 8 reignited the controversy.

In the new video, also published by TMZ Sports, Rice is seen knocking Palmer unconscious with a punch to the face. He was subsequently cut from the Ravens and indefinitely suspended from the NFL.

Days after the new video's release, a law-enforcement officer told the Associated Press that he had sent an NFL executive a video in April that showed Rice striking Palmer. 

Conflicting reports over what Goodell knew about the incident prior to Rice’s two-game suspension in July prompted UltraViolet and other critics to call for the commissioner’s resignation.

“In a country where 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime, we cannot afford to have someone like Goodell, who clearly doesn’t take domestic violence seriously, in such a position of power,” Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, told Al Jazeera.

“We know that the NFL has a problem with handling players who have engaged in domestic violence, they haven’t taken it seriously at all, not even as serious as, say, smoking marijuana — it’s pretty tragic.”

The group said they plan to fly more banners with the hashtag #GoodellMustGo over NFL games in Cleveland and San Francisco on Sunday, and in Indianapolis on Monday, according to a release.

UltraViolet hopes to reach the growing percentage of women watching NFL games, who now account for 45 percent of the league’s audience. About 6 million women watch NFL games each week.

Thomas said the new NFL policy regarding domestic violence is a good step, and that a recently announced second suspension indicates it is already being implemented.

Carolina Panthers player Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic violence this summer, wasn't allowed to play in Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, the team said on Twitter.

“They have awakened to the need to handle things differently, to take domestic violence seriously — to go from being far behind on the issue to being a leader, and for that, Goodell will have to resign,” Thomas said.

With wire services

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