By his own admission, New York Giants kicker Josh Brown abused his wife for years, confessing in newly released police documents that he saw himself as “God basically” and his now ex-wife Molly as his “slave.”
The documents, which comprise police reports, private journal entries, photos, emails, and letters that track Brown’s repeated attacks against his wife—some of them in front of their children—are shocking and disturbing. But even more unsettling is the NFL’s willingness to stay in the dark about the abuse.
In May 2015, Brown was arrested in King County, Washington, for assaulting his wife, who police had found locked in a bedroom with abrasions on her wrist. After Molly Brown told police that her husband had become physical with her on numerous other occasions, the NFL launched an investigation into the allegations. Ten months later, the NFL said the investigation had turned up only enough evidence to suspend Brown for the first game of the 2016 season under the league’s catchall personal conduct policy, this despite the existence of a domestic violence policy instituted in 2014 that mandates a six-game suspension for first-time abusers. The NFL said Molly Brown did not speak to the league during its investigation, and while there are a number of reasons victims of domestic abuse may choose to stay silent—love, fear, hope, shame—she was the person in the best position to speak about the abuse.
In a statement Thursday, the NFL said local law enforcement didn’t cooperate with the league’s investigation, either, though King County’s Sheriff John Urquhart rejected this characterization. Urquhart told Eric Mandel of MYNorthwest.com that four days after Brown’s May 2015 arrest, “a man named Rob Agnew submitted a public disclosure request with a generic Comcast email address.” This was denied because of police protocol for open investigations.
“Nowhere on the request does he say that he works for the NFL,” Urquhart said, noting that if the NFL had been more transparent in its attempts to get information about the case, he could have been more helpful. According to MYNorthwest.com’s Mandel, the sheriff said that while he still wouldn’t have released the files to the NFL, “We probably would have told them orally a little bit more about what we had. … We’ve got some goofus from Woodinville named Rob Agnew asking for the case file. We have no idea who he is.”
Still, even without Molly Brown’s cooperation or the police case file, the NFL’s investigators could easily have uncovered Josh Brown’s history of domestic abuse. Apparently, the Giants knew about it. Giants owner John Mara told radio station WFAN on Thursday that Brown “admitted to us that he abused his wife in the past.” Mara, who said during the 2014 Ray Rice investigation that “there is no place in the game for domestic violence,” also went on to tell the radio interviewer that the team never tried to speak to 37-year-old Brown’s wife. Mara did, however, repeatedly praise the “young man’s … good faith efforts” to rehabilitate himself and refused to say whether Brown would be cut from the team.
In the police documents, Molly Brown asserts that a handful of neighbors and friends—including former Seattle Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and his wife, Sarah—were aware of Brown’s pattern of abuse. According to the documents, they had received a letter from Brown in which he admitted to being “a liar for most of [his] life” and making “decisions to use and abuse women starting at the age of 7.” Somehow, in its “exhaustive attempts to obtain information,” the NFL seems not to have picked up the phone and called people, including a former NFL player, who knew Josh and Molly Brown.
Alternatively, as Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz pointed out, the NFL could simply have looked at the divorce file, a publicly available document, which contained much of the same damning information as the newly released case file.
But despite its best efforts to stay uninformed, the NFL couldn’t help but be aware that something was amiss with Josh Brown. According to police documents, when Molly and her children were in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl in January, she had to call hotel security, because, she said, Josh showed up drunk at her room (they were in the process of getting a divorce and had separate accommodations), “pounding on the door to be let in.” She said Josh was escorted away, and the NFL put her up in another hotel room. SportsNet New York’s Ralph Vacchiano, who first reported the release of the case file documents, confirmed with an NFL source that the league was aware of the incident during the Pro Bowl and helped Molly Brown move to another hotel room.
It’s easy to show that the NFL failed spectacularly in its “investigation.” But can it really be considered a failure if the league didn’t even try? After the high-profile domestic abuse cases of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and Greg Hardy, the NFL surely doesn’t want more press about abusive players. It’s bad for business. Sure, the league will market branded handbags and yoga pants to women (rhinestones galore!); it’ll spam the airwaves with “Football Is Family” commercials (women love family stuff, duh); it will even invite Beyoncé to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show (OK, that was actually pretty great), but doing its best to help a woman who said she was abused by an NFL player? Apparently, that’s asking too much.
History has shown that the NFL will respond to domestic violence by players only when it is forced to do so by hard evidence and collective outrage. When videos or photos or, in this case, journal entries come to light that show abuse, the league and its teams twist themselves into desperate pretzels trying to look tough on domestic violence. That’s why the Giants announced Brown won’t play on Sunday, and it’s why the league says it’s going to reopen the investigation into Brown’s case but is leaving open the possibility of putting him on the commissioner’s exempt list, a way for a player to continue to get paid while not taking up a space on a team’s roster. That’s why Ray Rice was handed a two-game suspension for hitting his wife in an elevator in 2014 but after the video of the knockout punch surfaced, he was swiftly cut from the Baltimore Ravens and ostracized from the league.
It’s clear from Josh Brown’s journal entries and letters that he is a troubled individual with a difficult past. He wrote that he was molested as a child and is no longer in contact with his family. He says he is addicted to sex and calls himself a “deviant.” In some passages, Brown is remorseful for abusing his wife, in others he blames her for being ungrateful and choosing her children over him. In a statement, the Giants condemned domestic violence and said, “Josh has acknowledged that he has issues in his life and has been working on these issues through therapy and counseling for a long period of time. We remain supportive of Josh and his efforts.”
That’s all well and good—the man clearly needs help. But is the NFL or the Giants offering support to Molly Brown? With its domestic violence policy and its partnership with an anti-domestic-abuse campaign, the NFL has the trappings of an organization that cares about domestic violence. But what the NFL really cares about is looking like it cares about domestic violence.
Update, Oct. 21, 2016, 4 p.m.: This afternoon, Josh Brown was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, meaning he will continue to get paid by the New York Giants but will be ineligible to practice or play in NFL games. In a letter sent to the Giants kicker, an NFL executive wrote that the league will conduct a new review into Brown’s behavior and will “make any appropriate adjustments to your roster status in a timely manner.” According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, Brown is likely done with the New York Giants and “multiple sources also expressed real doubt that Brown would ever kick again in the NFL.”