By Steve Ginsburg
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday the NFL appeared to be "winging it" in dealing with former Baltimore Ravens star Ray Rice's domestic violence case but praised the league for later putting in place a new policy to handle such incidents.
The National Football League on Wednesday unveiled a tougher policy for disciplining players for off-field misconduct including violence against women in the wake of high-profile domestic violence cases involving Rice and 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson.
During an interview with ESPN Radio, Obama said he hopes the NFL's new guidelines send a "message that there's no place for that kind of behavior in society."
"When you have a privilege of playing in a sports league and people looking up to you, you've got responsibilities to the fans and your employers and you've got to be treated the way other people are treated when you do make mistakes," said Obama, a big sports fan who periodically offers his views on events in the sports world.
"And some of those mistakes are ones that are very serious where you're breaking the law," Obama added.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faced sharp criticism for the way he dealt with Rice. Goodell initially suspended Rice for only two games after the running back was charged with aggravated assault for knocking unconscious his then-fiancée and now-wife Janay in an elevator in Atlantic City.
Only after a video emerged showing Rice punching her did Goodell suspend him indefinitely from the NFL.
"Obviously the situation that happened in the Rice family was unfortunate but it did lift up awareness that it’s a real problem that we’ve got to root out," Obama said.
"The way it was handled indicates that the NFL was behind the curve, as a lot of institutions have been behind the curve, in sending a clear message," Obama said. "You don't want to be winging it when something like this happens. You want to have clear policies in place."
Obama said there was a "little bit of an old boy's network" in the NFL and elsewhere allowing bad behavior to be tolerated.
"There have been some blind spots that are rooted not just in professional football but dating back into college football and certain behaviors have been tolerated historically that really should not have been tolerated," Obama said.
"Hopefully this has been a wakeup call and people start thinking about this a little more systematically."
(Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Will Dunham)