Josh Brown told the world he was a hopelessly arrogant abuser that August day when he said he was “not OK with the decision” the NFL had made in benching him one game for assaulting his wife.
Brown knew he had already admitted in documents not yet released that he had “physically, verbally, and emotionally abused my wife,” and that he’d viewed her as “my slave,” yet the New York Giants kicker had a problem with the league suspending him for one single solitary Sunday. In fact, Brown said he was “uncomfortable” with Roger Goodell’s broad powers under the personal conduct policy.
Yes, a man whose now-former wife claimed he’d abused her more than 20 times was uncomfortable with the commissioner’s authority to discipline him for it.
If Giants officials were paying close attention, this was the day they should’ve been really worried about Brown, and his alleged commitment to the cause of becoming a better human being. Maybe those remarks made them wonder whether they’d gambled on the wrong guy, maybe not. Either way, they lost their gamble in a staggering way and left owner John Mara’s standing as the league’s moral compass looking as if it had been hit by a truck.
Mara has always been very good at cleaning up Goodell’s messes, following the commissioner’s wayward rulings and news conference fumbles with some thoughtful and articulate spin. But this time, Mara himself made the mess long before he told WFAN, the radio station carrying Giants games, that the kicker had “admitted to us that he’s abused his wife in the past.”
The Giants knew Brown had been involved in two heated incidents — not one, but two — with his former wife, Molly Brown, when they decided to bring back their free agent on a two-year, $4 million contract. They knew not only of Brown’s 2015 arrest on domestic violence but also of a confrontation at the Pro Bowl that unfolded less than three months before the Giants signed their kicker to the new deal. Molly Brown alleged that her husband was drunk and pounding on her hotel room door before NFL security helped clear him from the area and moved her and her children to a new room.
When Mara spoke in August about the decision to sign Brown, he did not mention the Pro Bowl incident. Nobody with the Giants mentioned it. If they figured the story would never surface, they gambled and guessed wrong again. “A lot of times there is a tendency to try to make these cases black and white,” Mara said that day. “They are very rarely black and white; you very rarely have a Ray Rice video.”
There’s been no Josh Brown video to date, but the newly released documents are as black and white as can be. The Giants decided to keep employing a man whose former wife quoted him as saying that “women like me get hit because we can’t shut up.”
Now the NFL wants a do-over on its investigation, this after blaming its pathetic one-game penalty on a King County (Washington) Sheriff’s Office that denied the league’s past requests for all documents relevant to the case. The sheriff, John Urquhart, responded by portraying league investigators as Inspector Clouseau-like bunglers (surprise, surprise) in an interview with Seattle radio station KIRO, saying he would’ve given them an off-the-record heads-up on the depth of Brown’s admissions had they properly identified themselves as working for, you know, the NFL.
The Giants? Their statement announcing that Brown would not be boarding the plane to London for the game with the Rams, and that his status will be revisited after the team returns home, included the reminder that Brown has acknowledged his “issues” through extended therapy and counseling.
“We remain supportive of Josh and his efforts,” the statement said. The Giants didn’t say anything about being supportive of their employee’s victim. These football teams never say much about the victims, do they?
“We’re not going to turn our back on Josh,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said Friday in London.
That’s exactly what his team should do, however. Although the Giants have long been held up as a model of stability and right-minded thinking in the world’s most volatile marketplace, Brown isn’t their first hire with a domestic violence past. In 1997 they brought in Christian Peter, who had a long history of violence against women. The next year, mere weeks after the girlfriend whom Tito Wooten allegedly choked and punched committed suicide in Wooten’s garage, the Giants gave the defensive back an $8 million deal.
Mara wasn’t at the very top of the organization then, but he sure is now. And frankly, of all the New York sports owners I’ve covered over 30 years, Mara is the one I would’ve picked above all others to make an ethical choice in a critical situation.
No more. It’s not a pleasant thing to type, but the truth often isn’t. Mara said over the summer that he has to answer to his four daughters and seven sisters. What does he tell them now about re-signing a repeat abuser who describes himself as “repulsive”?
What Mara should tell them, of course, is that he made a terrible mistake and that Josh Brown will never take another kick in a Giants uniform. He should tell them he feels as foolish as owner Jerry Jones now feels for making Greg Hardy a Cowboy. He should tell them that, for the rest of his life, the franchise will embrace a legitimate zero-tolerance policy on domestic violence for all employees and not the fake zero-tolerance policy that Mara and McAdoo talked about before this disastrous turn of events. He should tell them he’s sorry for dishonoring the family business. Goodell could’ve helped out Mara, one of his fiercest advocates, by hiring more competent investigators, and by dropping a six-game hammer on Brown in August. But this one isn’t about the commissioner. This one is about the team owner who must realize that his role in investigating Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice case now seems absurd.
But since football people love to talk about turning negatives into positives, let’s give it a shot here. NFL owners might’ve learned a useful lesson in the Josh Brown case. They saw what happened to John Mara, of all people, and to the New York Giants, of all teams. If they can get shredded for suiting up an abuser, anyone can get shredded for it.
So this is the overriding hope in the months and seasons to come, that owners will tell their coaches, scouts and executives that they are not to recommend for employment any man who has inappropriately touched a woman once, never mind twice or more. If Mara’s dreadful mistake scares his peers straight, the NFL might finally become a more humane and dignified place to play.