WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of the Senate Commerce Committee chastised the commissioners of the NFL, Major League Baseball, NBA and NHL for skipping a hearing Tuesday on domestic violence in pro sports, with one saying the absences reflect a lack of focus on the issue.
"They were all asked to be here, and leadership does start at the top. And I do think that it's pretty convenient that none of them were able to appear today," said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire. "That does say something about: How big a commitment is there going to be on this?"
Instead of Commissioner Roger Goodell, for example, the NFL sent Troy Vincent, the executive vice president of football operations, who ignored questions from reporters after the hearing and was led away by league employees. During his prepared testimony, Vincent — a former player — choked up while saying abuse was a "way of life" in his home when he was growing up because his mother was beaten.
Domestic violence has become a main topic of conversation across the sports landscape in recent months, particularly in light of the case of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. He punched his then-fiancee — now wife — in a casino elevator and originally was suspended by Goodell for two games, then barred indefinitely after graphic video of the fight was released by TMZ. Eventually, though, that second punishment was erased by an arbitrator when Rice appealed.
Vincent was asked Tuesday why the NFL didn't try harder to obtain the video from inside the elevator. He replied, "I don't think there was a need," and said the league should have handed Rice a tougher punishment to begin with.
At the time of Rice's indefinite suspension, Goodell said the TMZ video spurred the tougher penalty.
On Tuesday in New York, an appeal hearing began for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who was suspended for the rest of the season after pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault for injuring his 4-year-old son with a switch.
Senators pressed the representatives of the four leagues and their players' unions — NBA Players Association Executive Director Michele Roberts was the only head of any of the eight organizations present — on matters such as whether they conduct their own investigations, independent of police; whether coaches or other team personnel are required to report instances of illegal conduct to law enforcement; and what sort of help is provided for abuse victims.
"You've got to understand that the status quo is not acceptable. ... I think you all know that in your hearts," said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat. "There will be more accountability in the future."
During the hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, announced he was introducing legislation to end the leagues' permanent antitrust exemptions, while Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, said "it's ridiculous" that the NFL enjoys tax-exempt status.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who chairs the committee, said he called for the hearing because "until very recently, the leagues' records have not been good" on the issue, and they "have done little or nothing in response" when players have been charged or convicted for domestic violence.
There were some contentious moments involving the NFLPA, including when Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican, said: "When you're worried more about getting back on the field, instead of stopping abuse, your priorities are out of order."
Later, during an exchange with the NFLPA's deputy managing director, Teri Patterson, Heller said: "You're either for stopping sexual assault, domestic abuse and child abuse — or you're not."
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