A troubling new story may overshadow this weekend's highly anticipated AFC championship game and bring bad publicity back to the NFL at a moment when its image appeared to be on the rebound.
Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary, 26, has been charged with rape, according to court documents filed Wednesday by the Marion County prosecutor. He faces one count of rape, one count of criminal confinement and one count of battery, according to court documents. The alleged sexual assault took place on Dec. 1, 2014. His attorney released a statement Thursday stating that McNary "unhesitatingly" denies the allegations
The Colts put out a statement Thursday calling on NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to put McNary on the League's Commissioner Exemption list. If added to the list, McNary will be barred from practice or games while an investigation by the NFL (under the league's new personal conduct policy) is allowed to unfold. "The Colts sincerely hope this extraordinarily serious matter will be resolved expeditiously and that justice will prevail," the team said in a statement. Goodell granted their request on Thursday, placing McNary on the exempt list. According to the NFL's revised policies, if a player is "formally charged" with an act of criminal violence he will be placed on paid administrative leave.
Ironically, the news of the charges against McNary coincides with reports that the Baltimore Ravens have settled a grievance complaint with the team's former star running back Ray Rice, who was cut last year in the wake of a highly publicized incident of domestic violence involving his now-wife Janay Rice.
It was the NFL's far-from-severe initial punishment of Ray Rice that sparked considerable controversy last fall, when video leaked to the gossip site TMZ revealed the former Ravens star knocking out his fiancee with a punch in an Atlantic City casino elevator. Goodell eventually suspended Rice from the NFL indefinitely, but that decision was overturned on appeal. The Ravens cut Rice amid the controversy.
Rice had claimed the Ravens owed him $3.5 million dollars. Although the details are unknown, NBC News has confirmed that the team and Rice have settled, reportedly several days ago. Rice is still hoping to be reinstated on an NFL squad.
Meanwhile, the league was recently cleared in an independent probe led by ex-FBI Director Robert Mueller, which found "no evidence" that NFL officials had access to the full Rice tape when the decision was made to suspend him for just two games last Spring. The National Organization for Women (NOW) slammed the report. In a statement titled “How Do You Spell Whitewash? N-F-L,” NOW president Terry O’Neill said, “If one of Robert Mueller’s FBI agents had turned in a report as incomplete as the Ray Rice investigation, that agent would have been transferred to Peoria.”
Goodell had previously unveiled brand new personal conduct policies and rules for NFL players and personnel to better address allegations of domestic violence and sexual assault. “The policy is comprehensive,” Goodell said at its unveiling during a press conference in Dallas. “It is strong. It is tough. And it is better for everyone associated with the NFL.”
Still, despite his efforts, and votes of confidence from the NFL owners around the league, Goodell remains a lightening rod for many sports fans and advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. This Sunday, at both the NFC and AFC championship games, UltraViolet, a national women's advocacy group, plans to fly planes with banners reading: "@UltraViolet: #GoodellMustGo." While planes carrying the message have appeared in games earlier in the NFL season they will be under a bigger spotlight during the height of the playoffs.
UltraViolet is also rolling out a new ad campaign criticizing Goodell's handling of domestic violence cases.
"Under Goodell's tenure, more than 55 cases of domestic abuse went unanswered and the latest charges of rape against Colts linebacker Josh McNary, who was set to play in the AFC Championship, underscore the need for action. Plain and simple -- NFL has a domestic abuse problem, and it simply doesn't have the leadership to fix it," said Shaunna Thomas, cofounder of UltraViolet, in a statement. "It is clear that Roger Goodell's NFL took no initiative to prosecute domestic abusers and protect their victims and it is clear that the NFL will not take domestic violence seriously until Roger Goodell is gone."