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NFL, apologize to women for Ray Rice

By Roxanne Jones
updated 4:42 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roxanne Jones: Goodell, NFL commissioner, talked good line on NFL welcoming female fans
  • She says women 45% of league base; might have expected harsh penalty for Ray Rice
  • But he got light slap. Michael Vick, of dogfighting notoriety, had harsh punishment, she says
  • Jones: Goodell shows what he thinks of women. She urges NFL blackout when Rice returns

Editor's note: Roxanne Jones is a founding editor of ESPN The Magazine and a former vice president at ESPN. She is a national lecturer on sports, entertainment and women's topics and a recipient of the 2010 Woman of the Year award from Women in Sports and Events. She is the co-author of "Say It Loud: An Illustrated History of the Black Athlete," (Random House) and CEO of the Push Marketing Group. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- There has been much controversy about the two-game suspension the NFL handed down in July to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. Rice was caught on a security camera in February pulling his fiancée, Janay Palmer (now his wife, Janay Rice), unconscious from an elevator. He was charged with aggravated assault.

That's right, two games. I have something to say to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Roxanne Jones
Roxanne Jones

Dear Roger,

We thought you really cared. We believed you when you said you wanted to create a more welcoming NFL game for women.

And all of us were touched by the compassion you showed with your Breast Cancer Awareness campaign, even though those hot pink cleats disturbingly clashed with every NFL uniform. Mr. Commissioner, you even talked endlessly about making NFL stadiums around the nation more family-friendly.

And despite all the disturbing medical reports of NFL players with life-threatening concussions, you have worked tirelessly to try to convince us moms that the game remains safe for our precious sons. (I forgave you for stretching the truth past all the medical evidence on that one.) And still, we thought: Now that man really cares. What a guy.

We repaid your good deeds by watching the games in record numbers, helping the league boost its television ratings. We even started turning up at stadiums around the nation and buying all those form-fitting team-branded outfits now made for women.

The NFL reported earnings of more than $9 billion last year, thanks in large part to women, who make up nearly 45% of the league's fan base.

So, knowing you as we do, there was no doubt that you'd send down the harshest penalty possible for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice after he was caught on camera dragging his then-fiancee, Janay, like a rag doll out of the elevator.

Surely, you, like all the rest of us, must have been appalled by Rice's actions. Roger will handle it, we thought. No way the commissioner who prides himself on being tough on players who step out of line will let this atrocious behavior go unpunished.

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What fools we have been. A two-game suspension? You repay our loyalty with an insult? And you expect us to accept that -- to keep on supporting your game? Not happening here. You've shown us your true face. And sadly, you, Mr. Commissioner are a fake, a fraud, a liar. Turns out you never really cared about women at all.

Where is the indignation and outrage you showed the world when handing down the indefinite suspension for NFL quarterback Michael Vick in 2007 after he admitted his role in a dogfighting ring?

"Your admitted conduct is not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible. ... Your team, fans and the NFL have all been hurt by your actions," you wrote to Vick in a formal letter from the league. "Your career, freedom and your public standing are now in the most serious jeopardy. I hope that you will be able to learn from this difficult experience and emerge from it better prepared to act responsibly and to make the kinds of choices that are expected of a conscientious and law-abiding citizen."

By your lights, it sounds like dogs are more important than women. Or perhaps you subscribe to the philosophy of my misguided colleague, sports commentator Stephen A. Smith, who raised the issue of whether Rice's wife somehow brought an "element of provocation" into the situation.

Rightfully, Smith was suspended for a week by ESPN. But at least he has faced his critics. You, Mr. Goodell, were hiding out in your NFL ivory tower until you were forced to face the league's female fans and try to defend the indefensible.

It's good to know where we stand with you now, Roger. We should have known that you were just stringing us along. Saying all the right words. Sadly, we love this game so much it was easy to look the other way. Easy to believe.

But you've gone too far. It's time for us to fight back. I'm declaring week three, Sunday, September 21, 1:00 p.m. an NFL blackout day in my house. That's the game when Rice is scheduled to return to the field after serving his paltry suspension. And I'm urging every woman I know to do the same. The blackout continues until we hear your apology.

You don't take 45% of your customers for granted. Because, in case you didn't know, Roger, without women watching the NFL, you lose.

And we are keeping score.

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