Keeping Score

The NFL’s Brett Favre Harrassment Ruling: Huh?

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Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre watches from the sidelines during their NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 28, 2010.

REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

The NFL has handed down its judgment in the Brett Favre sexual harassment affair. Unfortunately, the league’s ruling leaves more questions than answers.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the details of the sordid saga – lucky you – here are the essentials: back in 2008, when he was playing for the New York Jets, Favre reportedly made advances towards Jenn Sterger, a Jets team employee, and allegedly sent her pictures of his genitals, which were posted on the website Strangely, Favre never reacted like someone who was falsely accused: he never shouted, “THOSE ARE NOT MY PRIVATES!” Instead, he stayed mum about the story. In October the NFL launched an investigation, since the affair involved a serious issue: workplace harassment.

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The NFL’s statement reads, in part: “On the basis of the evidence currently available to him, Commissioner [Roger] Goodell could not conclude that Favre violated league policies relating to workplace conduct.” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of innocence. The league went on to note that forensic evidence “could not establish” that Favre sent the objectionable pictures. Yet, the NFL won’t declare Favre “not guilty,” and is also qualifying its ruling “on the basis of evidence currently available to [Goodell].”

At the same time the NFL was letting Favre off the hook on harassment, “Commissioner Goodell also determined that Favre was not candid in several respects during the investigation.” The league fined Favre $50,000 “for his failure to cooperate with the investigation in a forthcoming matter.” Well, if Goodell is saying Favre lied and failed to cooperate with the investigation, and can only base his ruling “on evidence currently available” to him, is Favre withholding something? If so, why conclude the investigation and just slap Favre with a fine? Why investigate in the first place? What did Favre lie about? Why is the league parsing its words?

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If the league really thinks Favre did not send Sterger the pictures, it should just say so. As it stands, the NFL sounds like a judge or jury telling a defendant: “Hey, we can’t say you committed that crime since you’re not being honest. So you’re out of jail. But since you’re not being honest, we have to slap you with a little fine. Is that OK?”

And if the NFL is truly upset about Favre lying to an employer during a workplace harassment investigation – a fireable offense at many, if not most, companies – why not hit him with a more serious fine? A $50,000 punishment is pennies for Favre, who is reportedly making $16.5 million for his mediocre play this season. What kind of message is the NFL sending?

Many fans were hoping that the NFL’s statement would put the whole Favre-Sterger mess behind us. The tabloid affair has long grown tiresome. After this less than forthcoming conclusion about a serious issue, however, this story shouldn’t be sealed. We need more answers.