What a strange and haunting week for the Giants, whose dealings with their two most heavily scrutinized players unmasked a juxtaposition that won’t soon be forgotten.
At the beginning of the week, all the talk was about Odell Beckham Jr.’s over-the-top celebrations from his career game in Sunday’s 27-23 win over the Ravens. More than a few critics inside the Giants’ locker room, including coach Ben McAdoo and quarterback Eli Manning, believed Beckham went too far in “proposing” to the kicking net and removing his helmet after his winning touchdown catch.
By week’s end, the public chiding of Beckham seemed silly, as kicker Josh Brown came under further scrutiny for alleged domestic violence when documents stemming from his arrest on domestic violence charges in May, 2015, surfaced.
Many, if not most, of the team’s public comments expressing support for Brown outnumbered the condemnations for Beckham’s antics.
It is unlikely that Brown will ever kick again for the Giants — or any other NFL team — now that he has been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list.
But the bungled handling of Brown’s case by the Giants and the NFL underscores the need for further self-examination by all sides about how to deal with the scourge of domestic abuse. Two years after the league got it so wrong in its handling of the Ray Rice case, when commissioner Roger Goodell initially assessed only a two-game suspension for the Ravens running back accused of attacking his then-fiance in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel in February, 2014.
The decision was widely panned at the time for being too soft, and the early September release of a video showing Rice delivering the punch that rendered Janay Palmer unconscious set off an explosive controversy that inflicted heavy damage on the league’s image. Goodell eventually came up with what appeared to be a sensible plan to deal with players found to violate the league’s newly bolstered domestic violence policy, and Rice, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald and Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy were all hit with severe sanctions.
Brown’s case points to the need for the league to be more circumspect. Brown was not totally forthcoming when he met with the Giants and league investigators looking into his arrest for misdemeanor domestic violence. The charges were eventually dropped, and Brown said in his first public comments in August after being suspended one game for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy that it was “only a moment” in describing the incident leading to his arrest.
I heard him utter those words inside the Giants’ training complex, and also heard him complain that he shouldn’t have been suspended in the first place because it was only one incident and the charges were dropped five days later.
Court documents revealed shortly after his suspension was announced that Molly Brown had cited more than 20 different instances when Brown abused her. And once the case was completed and all relevant documents were released late Wednesday, we saw accounts of the abuse written in Josh Brown’s own words in journals and a “Contract For Change” that he had written as part of his therapy.
In retrospect, so many hints were missed, particularly by the Giants, who had re-signed Brown to a two-year, $4-million contract in April. They knew of his arrest the year before and the likelihood that he would face league discipline. They also knew of an incident at the Pro Bowl last January, when NFL security had to intercede during a dispute between Brown and his wife.
Giants president and co-owner John Mara acknowledged Friday that Brown previously told him he had abused his wife, yet the team still decided to keep him. This despite the intense attention paid to the issue of domestic violence in the NFL; Mara himself had been critical of players guilty of domestic violence, and was an outspoken voice among NFL owners for addressing the problem.
But when it came to a player on his own team, Mara came up short when making the choice to keep Brown. It must haunt him now, particularly because he has tried to do right by his players over the years. He thought Brown had made progress with ongoing therapy and marriage counseling, and he was willing to stand by his player through a difficult time.
Mara surely wrestled with the issue when reports came out about Molly’s claim of repeated abuse, but he also felt there was enough gray area to keep Brown on the roster. At one point, Mara suggested the fact that there was no Ray Rice-type video made it all the more difficult to justify releasing him.
As it turned out, there may not have been a video, but there was evidence just as damning in the documents released this week.
“I have physically, mentally, emotionally and verbally been a repulsive man,” Brown wrote in one of his journal entries, which was obtained by Newsday. “I have abused my wife.”
He also wrote in a document titled “Contract for Change,” an agreement facilitated by a Seattle-based marriage counselor, “I have controlled her my (sic) making her feel less human than me, and manipulated her with money. I have constantly made her feel as if she is not good enough for me to hide my own insecurities and self hate.”
Those are haunting words to read now, and Mara has to be second-guessing himself for how he handled things.
Brown’s playing career is almost certainly over, but the damage inflicted to the organization by his case will not easily be undone.
And to think that the biggest distraction facing the Giants was a high-strung wide receiver’s enthusiasm run amok. A strange and disturbing coincidence that the kicking net he used so playfully on the sidelines was one of the tools used by the player who turned out to be the truly troubled player in this organization. The player who brought such shame to himself and his team.