The NFL had a domestic abuse problem long before the current Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson cases that have troubled the sport, a Pro Football Hall of Famer said Thursday night.
"I think the NFL has a problem that they've tried to sweep under the rug for a long time," Hall of Fame lineman Joe DeLamielleure said. "It's not just those two guys, it's been going on for years."
DeLamielleure made his remarks in a panel discussion held in Mount Pleasant as part of the Medal of Honor Bowl. DeLamielleure and fellow Hall of Famer Paul Krause are acting as coaches for the college football all-star game, along with NFL veterans Charlie Brown and Joe Jacoby and former NFL coach Chan Gailey. All five men took part in Thursday's discussion, which touched on topics from concussions to the NFL's treatment of retired players and the possibility of paying college athletes.
DeLamielleure's remarks came on the same day that a report by former FBI director Robert Meuller was released saying there was no evidence that the NFL or commissioner Roger Goodell saw a video that showed former Ravens running back Rice punching his fiancee in a casino elevator before that video was released to the public. Goodell's original two-game suspension of Rice was met with widespread criticism after the video was seen by the public.
"I worked in a casino, and everybody knows there are security cameras everywhere," said DeLamielleure, who had a 13-year career with the Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns. "There's no doubt in my mind that Roger Goodell had that video, that the NFL had that video."
DeLamielleure, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003, said he questioned Goodell about the NFL's stance on domestic abuse at the last Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"I said, 'Why don't you teach these kids a lesson?'" said DeLamielleure, 63. "If they want to play, make them play for the (league) minimum salary, and the rest of the money goes to a battered women's shelter. And then on his day off, he goes to volunteer at the shelter. How many guys do you think would commit domestic crimes if they handled it that way?
"It may not be the right way to do it. But if you go by the world's way of doing it, nothing will happen."
In response to the controversies surrounding Rice, Peterson and others, Goodell announced last August a toughened NFL policy on players who commit domestic violence.
"Are you kidding me?" DeLamielleure said. "This is a multimillion, multibillion dollar business. You have to have a policy in place. And if there was not one in place, he should be fired."
Gailey, who coached the Buffalo Bills and the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL, said the actions of a few have stained the reputation of the sport.
"Ninety-five percent of the guys in the league are good guys, good husbands, good daddies," he said. "The five percent make a bunch of people look bad, and that's the negative ... But 95 percent of them are great guys who come to work and do what they need to do. The five percent, you hope they are not such a distraction that they cost your team a chance to be great at some point in time."
On other topics:
DeLamielleure suffers from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a degenerative disease that occurs in people who suffer multiple concussions or head injuries, and was among the first living NFL players to be so diagnosed. But he said he thinks future players will inherit a safer game than the one he played.
"I don't think you guys are going to have the problems we had," he told the college players on hand. "When I played in the Senior Bowl in college, we hit twice a day and it was all head-first. We don't do that now. Things have gotten a lot better, from the equipment to the fields to the knowledge of what's going on. I think the game will start growing again once we get all these lawyers out of here."
Brown, who played at St. John's High School and South Carolina State before his career with the Redskins, advocated for paying college athletes.
"The universities are making a lot of money, we're talking millions of dollars, from football," said Brown, who now coaches at Kingstree High School. "Yes, the players are getting an education. But at the same time, they are making the universities millions. It's not fair."
Gailey supported the idea of schools setting aside money for players that they could collect upon graduation.
Krause, who played from 1964 to 1979 with the Redskins and Vikings, contrasted the retirement pensions of NFL players with the $44 million annual salary of commissioner Goodell.
"Is he worth that?" Krause asked. "I played 16 years in the NFL and up until two years ago, my pension was $400 a month. I think I deserved more than that. Four hundred rotten dollars a month - that's one night out.
DeLamielleure pointed to his fellow players on the panel.
"These guys helped build the league to what it is today," he said. "And we have sub-poverty pension and no health care. And that's wrong."