NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced new guidelines for how the league will handle incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault. The change in policy, explained an open letter to team owners, come a month after the NFL was criticized for how it handled player Ray Rice's arrest on domestic violence charges.
Goodell says that the new policies were developed after conversations with outside experts, team owners and the NFL Players Association. The open letter describes several ways in which the NFL plans to provide training, support and resources to personnel, players and their families. It also sets down guidelines for how sexual assault and domestic abuse will be punished in the future.
"Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense," Goodell writes, though the league may choose to make a suspension longer or shorter depending on various factors. "A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL."
Baltimore running back Rice was arrested in February on charges of domestic abuse; a video circulated online showing Rice dragging his then-fiancee's unconscious body out of an elevator. Rice enrolled in an intervention program instead of going to trial, and publicly apologized for the assault.
As a result of Rice's actions, the NFL suspended the player for two games and fined him $58,000.
The suspension seemed light when compared with the way the NFL punishes other prohibited behavior, as Bloomberg View columnist Kavitha Davidson told NPR's Scott Simon. "For reference, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is facing a yearlong suspension for smoking pot," Davidson told Simon, and other players have received four-game suspensions for drug use.
In the open letter, Goodell says that Rice's punishment was a mistake. "I didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better," he writes. "And we will."
The letter also describes how the league hopes to identify risk factors to prevent assault and violence and indicates that the NFL plans to address domestic violence and sexual assault in its youth football programs and public service work. NPR's Only A Game has more on the planned changes.
President Obama says the U.S. doesn't "have a strategy yet" on how to deal with Islamic State militants who now control vast swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria, but he added that the militant group was continuing to lose arms and equipment because of targeted U.S. strikes against its members in Iraq.
"I don't want to put the cart before the horse," Obama said at a White House news conference Thursday. "We don't have a strategy yet."
He was responding to a question on whether he needed congressional approval to attack Islamic State targets in Syria.
The president noted that the U.S. is continuing to carry out targeted strikes over Iraq to protect Americans there and to address the humanitarian situation on the ground. The Sunni militant group, in its brutal campaign, has carried out mass executions and targeted non-Muslims, including Christians and members of the tiny Yazidi community. Obama noted that in some areas, Iraqi government and Kurdish forces have begun to push the militants back.
"Rooting out a cancer like ISIL will not be quick or easy, but I'm confident that we can and we will, working with our allies and partners," Obama said.
ISIL refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, the former name of the Islamic State, which is also sometimes called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Obama said he had asked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to travel to the region to build a coalition against the militants and that he had asked Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff to "prepare a range of options."
He later added: "The options that I'm asking for from the Joint Chiefs focuses primarily on making sure that ISIL is not overrunning Iraq."
"Our focus right now is to protect American personnel on the ground in Iraq, to protect our embassy, to protect our consulates, to make sure that critical infrastructure that could adversely affect our personnel is protected," Obama said in his opening statement.
The administration's options against the Islamic State are complicated by the fact the militant group is one of many fighting to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. The U.S. and its allies also want Assad gone. Indeed, Obama said Thursday that "Assad has lost legitimacy."
Obama's news conference also dealt with the situation in Ukraine.
The protests that followed the shooting death this month of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., have rekindled long-standing complaints about racist policing, especially in the St Louis area.
Many male African-American residents there say police scrutinize them unfairly. "Every time you see a cop, it's like, 'OK, am I going to get messed with?' " says Anthony Ross. "You feel that every single time you get behind your car. Every time."
Now, police officers in and around St. Louis are becoming more vocal about defending themselves against the charges of bias.
Erich Von Almen, a sergeant in the St. Louis County Police Department, is assigned to the city of Jennings, right next door to Ferguson. Like Ferguson, Jennings is predominantly African-American. "There are a few Caucasians that still live here," Von Almen says.
Von Almen himself is white, as are most police officers here. That's another way Jennings is like Ferguson: White cops patrol black neighborhoods.
Von Almen was keenly aware of that right after the shooting of Michael Brown. "It was a little tense," he says, but "I was, I guess, pleasantly surprised" by the relative calm.
Did anyone call him a racist?
"No," he says, then hesitates. "Well, let me say this: No more than during, quote-unquote, normal times."
Jennings has something else in common with Ferguson. Darren Wilson, the Ferguson officer who shot Michael Brown, used to work in Jennings. But three years ago, scandals prompted the city to disband its police department and fire its officers — including Wilson.
The city then switched to county police, and Von Almen says they're turning things around in Jennings.
"If there's a violation, whether it's something as simple as ... an outstanding warrant or a traffic violation, there's a zero-tolerance policy," he says. "And the good citizens of the precinct that we patrol appreciate that, because it has had a very positive impact on crime stats."
But here's the thing: Jennings is predominantly black, so if the cops here are showing zero tolerance, it can't help but feel like racial profiling to the residents.
Von Almen says he gets that, but insists the zero tolerance policy is colorblind. "For example, there's a big heroin trade down here. And a lot of white people come, and they get stopped," he says. "And they all say the same thing: that they were stopped because they were white in a black area."
The difference is that black people who feel under scrutiny are in their own neighborhoods, not coming in from elsewhere. Young black men, especially, say they have to do everything perfectly to avoid trouble with the police. That's something even some white officers say they recognize.
"Even if there's not any truth to it, the fact that the perception is out there sort of becomes the reality," says Jeff Roorda, a retired cop. Now a business manager for the St. Louis Police Officers Association, he's also a state representative.
"We put police where crime is, and we saturate areas where we're trying to displace crime," Roorda says. "And through no fault of their own, a lot of young black men are right in the middle of that."
It's a conundrum: The police officers' mandate to push down crime statistics in black neighborhoods can also alienate them from those neighborhoods.
"There's a disconnect that's undeniable between police and urban communities. There's distrust on both sides," and that's not going to be easily resolved, Roorda says.
As things have calmed in Ferguson, police around St. Louis are becoming more outspoken in their own defense. A few days ago, they rallied in support of Darren Wilson. Supporters have raised more than $400,000 for him outside a local bar and online.
Jeffrey Barnes, a retired St. Louis city police commander, is among those waving pro-police signs in support of Wilson.
"Our job is to protect and serve," Barnes says. "And for individuals to call policemen racist for trying to defend themselves — to defend their lives — that's absolutely despicable."
But even here, in a neighborhood where a lot of cops live, support was hardly universal. A woman passed in a car, shouting, "You racist pig!"
That woman was white.
In my teens, I stumbled onto the wide trail of "the writer's bildungsroman," the coming-of-age stories that often gave me too much to identify with. That whispered clear messages while I slept and while I tried to imagine a life far, far outside the heat and farmlands of where I grew up.
Why I so readily identified with J.G. Ballard in a Japanese prison camp in Empire of the Sun, or A.E. Hotchner on the streets of Depression-era St. Louis in King of the Hill, I couldn't have told you at the time. But I intuitively knew I had stumbled onto something big, and I decided I would be a writer. Or, rather, that I was one, already. It was the only thing that made sense: I had all the markers of the archetypical "writer." I had the self-pity, the trauma, the delusional self-confidence, a family predilection for alcoholism and drugs. I was all set. Now I just needed to write something.
Twenty-five years later, I'm finally eking out a living as an author, living the dream that started in the middle of that night I was halfway through William Goldman's The Color of Light (a book about another developing writer) and thinking, "Yes: I can do this, too."
As a teenager, I created an idealized image of what it would be like to live off my thoughts and ideas and sense of humor, snuggling comfortably between my fans and the people who vehemently despised me. It was blissful to imagine, taking my position in the pantheon among my literary darlings, wondering if I'd had one moment alone with each one, what I would ask them.
That was me at 17. At 42, I know very clearly what I'd ask now: What the hell did you do for health care? And did your body start falling apart at 40, as well?
Up until a few years ago, my body was made out of rubber. Sure, years of neglect, allergies, injuries and asthma were layered in there, but back in my 20s and 30s, I'd just forget about it, go about my business and things would sort of level out.
Not so, not anymore. Now with this struggle to stay on top of my health care bills, I find myself imagining what Garp did, before he was shot, when he was the stay-at-home dad in John Irving's The World According to Garp. Or what J.G. did, when the drinking started to catch up with him. True, he was British, so he probably had that national coverage. But Truman Capote? Or Norman Mailer? Would he be willing to teach at a university just for the health care? The bail money?
Did they really plan that far ahead?
At this age, I'm trying my best to manage my self-care. It's an ongoing, conscious argument between my unstructured, lazy self and my newfound worrier: "Eat that. Don't eat that. Don't drink that. Drink more water. When are you going to exercise? We need to follow up with the doctor. You forgot your Prazosin again. I just want to sit on the couch. How do you best combine arugula with bacon? Is there any more ice cream?"
Last year, as I sat in a community health clinic, I wondered if I was the only New York Times best-seller who was waiting to get sliding scale treatment from an underfunded community project, so I wouldn't die from an asthma attack or have a stroke.
It's impossible to include what seem like fussy details when you're imagining your dreams and heroes as a kid. But priorities should change as one ages, and one's ideals and dreams should change with them. Gone are the days of "walking it off" or taking for granted a near superhero ability to recover, and not just for me.
It's no secret that a lot of men resist taking care of themselves, especially men from marginalized groups like the one I'm from. Let's just say, there was no copy of Men's Health in the stack of pornography under my uncle's bed, and he's now blind from diabetes. And it took my own father to have 3 1/2 heart attacks before I addressed my own hypertension, but I'm learning my lessons.
If there's a book that could have prepared me for this, I wish I'd read it, growing up. Then again even if it was available, I probably would have ignored it. I was too busy modeling myself after the Great Gatsby. Thinking, just like he did, that my sins would never catch up to me.
Domingo Martinez is the author of Boy Kings of Texas. His next book, My Heart Is a Drunken Compass, will be out in November.