If Keefe is Guilty, Preds, AFL Should Show Zero Tolerance
On Sunday, Orlando Predators' coach Rob Keefe was arrested on domestic violence charges. It's the first time that the Arena Football League has had to deal with a domestic violence case since the battle against domestic violence came to the forefront of public awareness earlier this year. Though I must start by saying that I am a firm believer that Keefe is innocent until and unless he is proven guilty, if he is found guilty of this heinous act, the AFL and the Predators should show absolutely zero tolerance.
The topic of domestic violence is one which is going to plague NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for the remainder of his career. He suspended Ray Rice for two games before the start of the season, only to go on to suspend him indefinitely after there was public outrage about the lack of stiffer punishment. The suspension was eventually overturned in arbitration, but Rice was released by the Baltimore Ravens and has yet to find another team to play on. Just over the course of this year, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald have both been subjects of domestic violence claims, while Adrian Peterson has been placed on a season-long suspension after his child injury charges from earlier in 2014.
The NFL has taken all sorts of measures to try to educate its players on domestic violence, but the fact of the matter is that for many in the public, those actions have been taken far too late.
It's not too late for the AFL.
There is a heck of a lot on the line right now, both for the Predators and for the AFL as a whole. On the local level, there are billboards all over Central Florida stating that it is a "New Era" of Predators football. The team is headed back to the Amway Center after spending last season at CFE Arena on the campus of the University of Central Florida, and following a span where team ownership changed hands three times in less than 12 months, including one stint of league ownership, David Siegel is now looking to bring stability to the franchise once again.
Siegel of course, has more at stake than most would in this situation. Not only is he the owner of the Predators, but he is also the CEO at Westgate Resorts, the company which made him his fortune. The Predators are small potatoes to Siegel in relation to the rest of his empire. Though you never want to look at something as serious as a domestic violence claim in a positive light, Siegel can make a huge stand in the local community and bolster his own stature by taking a strong stand against Keefe. On the flip side of that, no reaction could hurt the image of both him and his family-friendly company, especially as this story continues to develop in the coming days and weeks.
On the more national level, the AFL can make a huge statement here as well. This is a league which has already had a tumultuous offseason. The Pittsburgh Power were fined for salary violations, and then the franchise ceased operations shortly thereafter. The San Antonio Talons have also shut their doors, while the Iowa Barnstormers moved to the ranks of the indoor leagues. The prospect is there that the league could be operating with just 12 teams next season, which would be the smallest version of the AFL since 1994 when just 11 franchises existed.
The last thing the AFL needs for its image is the coach of one of the staple franchises in the league being accused of domestic violence.
New commissioner Scott Butera could really put an early stamp on his tenure as the boss of the AFL by taking a huge stand against anyone involved in a domestic violence lawsuit. Sure, in America, anyone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty, but whether it is right or wrong to think so, in the court of public opinion, unless Keefe is proven to be absolutely and undeniably innocent (as opposed to not guilty), he will be looked at as a guilty man, and there will surely be public outcry against him on some level.
Last season, the AFL was guilty of not taking a strong enough stand against Keefe and his on-the-field shenanigans. Granted, there's no comparison between getting into a fight on the football field and getting into a domestic altercation, but the fact of the matter is that this is the same man who threw a punch at Joe Hills during a scuffle. It's the same man who led the league in personal fouls. It's the same man who was warned time and time again by the AFL front office to tone down his aggression and exuberance on the field, but every time it threatened anything more than a 10-yard penalty, there was no bite to back up the bark.
A "zero tolerance" decree also came out from the AFL office regarding personal fouls and fighting in games. Yet when push came to shove, the man who ruffled more feathers than anyone in the league and led a team which had nearly double the number of personal fouls as any other team in the league wasn't suspended for a single down or thrown out of a single game.
Both the Preds and the AFL are already out in the public marketing how much different they are now and will be in 2015 than they were before. Now is their chance to prove it.
A misstep here cannot be made by both Siegel and Butera. There is only one decision that should be made at this point. Until Keefe is proven either guilty or not guilty, it is of this writer's opinion that he needs to be suspended indefinitely and removed from the Arena Football League. If by chance he is found guilty, he should be banned for life with zero chance of reentry into the league.
It's a strong statement to make, but it's the one statement that the NFL failed to make.