Mehno: Goodell fails in Rice case

PITTSBURGH – NFL Network is a product of our multi-splintered, 200-channel television universe in which narrowcasting has replaced broadcasting.

There’s not only a channel for every interest, there’s probably a sub-channel as well. We have channels that feature nothing but cooking shows; how long before we have one devoted to slow cooker recipes? You click back seven hours later to see the finished dish.

NFL Network, launched in 2003, fills a bigger niche than a lot of speciality channels. It reaches about 63 percent of television households in the United States, and it has some programming that appeals to more than the truly obsessed.

NFL Network has a Thursday game of the week. The first half of the schedule this season will also be on CBS, but the last eight Thursday games are exclusive to NFL Network.

As a 24/7 operation, there are a lot of hours to fill. So you not only have wall-to-wall coverage of the NFL draft, you get endless hours of deposed general managers and personnel directors talking about what may happen in the draft. After that, it’s the same suspects back to offer opinions of what did happen.

NFL Network provides annual coverage of the NFL Scouting Combine, where players are measured like livestock and tested like chorus line dancers. But with all that time to fill, some of the offerings appear to be as marginal as the “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper” reruns on Nick at Nite.

“Inside Minicamp” and “Live From The Pro Bowl” are two of NFL Network’s regular seasonal offerings.

A natural for NFL Network would be a courtroom show. Barely a week passes that an NFL player doesn’t show up on a police blotter somewhere. Someone is always getting popped for drug possession on a routine traffic stop, and weapons violations have become commonplace, too. A lot of players are packing something.

Sometimes the brushes with the law are major, as was the case with Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. A security video showed Rice dragging the limp body of his fiance (now his wife) from an elevator. She was in that state because Rice had allegedly punched her in the face.

It wasn’t he said/she said. It was he did. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell looked at this elevator video and gave Rice a two-game suspension.

In the NFL, domestic violence equals a slap on the wrist. In the NFL, a player can get a one-game suspension for deliberately violent hit on the field. Do something violent off the field against someone who is defenseless, and it’s only an extra game.

Rice had a couple of things in his favor: He hasn’t been in trouble before, and he’s been suitably repentant. The fact he’s now married to the woman he dragged from the elevator would suggest they’ve addressed whatever issues existed in their relationship.

But is Goodell so tone-deaf that he doesn’t understand how offensive Rice’s behavior was to a large segment of the NFL’s audience? The league aims a portion of its marketing specifically at women. The Ravens website sells a women’s pink, bejeweled Ray Rice jersey for $59.95. If the league isn’t interested in taking the moral high ground, it should at least be savvy enough to protect its business interests.

What if some groups were outraged enough to share their wrath with the NFL’s long roster of corporate partners and official sponsors? What if organizations dedicated to fighting domestic violence made it known they would avoid buying products made by Ford, Coca-Cola and Anheuser-Busch, all of whom are official NFL sponsors?

The NFL blew this one on a stunning scale. Eight games would have been a more appropriate penalty for Rice than eight quarters.

Mehno can be reached at