The NFL placed New York Giants kicker Josh Brown on the commissioner’s exempt list Friday in the wake of documents that came to light this week in which Brown admitted to domestic violence against his wife.
The move puts Brown, who did not travel with the Giants to London for their game there Sunday, on what amounts to paid leave while the NFL decides whether another suspension is warranted. Brown already served a one-game suspension without pay to start the season for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy.
The NFL’s move does not affect any potential decision by the Giants as to whether to retain Brown or sever ties with him. Several people within the league said they would be surprised to see Brown remain with the Giants.
The letter to Brown, from NFL executive Adolpho Birch, said that Friday’s exempt-list move “does not represent a finding that you have violated the Personal Conduct Policy.” Brown will be given a chance to review the league’s findings and meet with NFL officials before any ruling about further disciplinary measures is made, according to the letter.
The league believes it can take further action against Brown if it so chooses because the information released this week potentially involves other instances of domestic violence for which he has not yet been punished by the NFL, the person familiar with the case said.
Birch wrote in his letter to Brown: “The released materials appear to contain information regarding other incidents of abuse separate from the May 22, 2015 incident for which you were disciplined under the Personal Conduct Policy. As a result, further investigation by the league into those separate incidents is needed.”
According to the letter, the league expects “to conduct this review expeditiously and make any appropriate adjustments to [Brown’s] roster status in a timely manner.”
Brown has three business days to appeal being placed on the exempt list. He would be paid while on the list. He cannot attend practices or games but can be present at the Giants’ facility for other activities if the team chooses to allow that.
After Sunday’s game in London against the Los Angeles Rams, the Giants do not play for two weeks because of a bye week. The Giants took veteran kicker Robbie Gould to London. Any action taken by the Giants, such as releasing Brown, would take place separately from the league’s deliberations, the person with knowledge of the case said.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart declined to comment earlier Friday on the specifics of the next steps the league will take.
“We always work aggressively to get as much information as we can,” Lockhart said by phone earlier Friday. “In this case that information was limited. We’ll look at the new information and make a decision about what should be done moving forward.”
The King County (Wash.) Sheriff’s Office released documents Wednesday appearing to show evidence of Brown’s physical and verbal abuse of his ex-wife on more than 20 occasions. The sheriff’s office investigated Brown, formerly with the Seattle Seahawks, for domestic violence in 2015. But a misdemeanor charge against Brown was dropped within days of his arrest.
The NFL Players Association, which has a legal duty to represent Brown, gave no indication about its plans. “The NFL has the ability to place a player on the exempt list and the player has the right to appeal that decision, if he chooses,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “The League office wanted unilateral control of this process and accordingly, their system lacks transparency.”
In 2014, a former federal judge serving as the arbitrator in the Ray Rice case overturned Rice’s indefinite suspension by the league. The NFL had imposed the suspension following the release of video depicting Rice’s domestic violence incident with his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City hotel elevator.
The league initially had suspended Rice for two games. The NFL maintained that the video represented new information in the case, warranting the new suspension. But the union contended that Rice could not be punished twice for the same incident. Former judge Barbara S. Jones agreed, concluding that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had overstepped his authority. The Ravens had released Rice when the video was made public, and he has not been signed by another team.
According to the person familiar with the league’s deliberations, the NFL believes that it can take further action against Brown if it chooses to do so, even with the ruling in the Rice case, because the new information released this week potentially pertains to other instances of domestic violence, not to the same incident for which Brown was suspended. In Rice’s case, the new evidence to emerge in the video was related to the same incident for which Rice was suspended. So the league believes the two cases are different in that way.
The NFLPA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The league has said it tried but failed to obtain information about Brown’s case from authorities before issuing the one-game suspension. The King County Sheriff, John Urquhart, was critical of the NFL’s investigative efforts Thursday, telling Seattle radio station KIRO that one league investigator failed to identify himself as being affiliated with the NFL.
When the NFL suspended Brown for one game, it said it had been unable to obtain further information about allegations of previous incidents of domestic violence by Brown. The league said then that Molly Brown, the player’s former wife, had declined to speak to the NFL’s investigators.
“As a result of these factors, our investigators had insufficient information to corroborate previous allegations,” the league said in a written statement then. “In addition, no criminal charges were brought forward regarding the incident in question or prior allegations. The NFL therefore made a decision based on the evidentiary findings around this one incident as provided to us by the District Attorney.”
In the documents released Wednesday, Brown wrote in a journal, letters and emails that he’d committed domestic violence.
“I have abused my wife,” Brown wrote in a journal entry.
Molly Brown told police that he’d been physically violent with her more than 20 times.
The NFL bolstered its personal conduct policy in late 2014, calling for a baseline of a six-game suspension for any player or other employee for a first-time offense involving domestic violence. But the policy allows for a shorter or longer suspension, based on circumstances.
The NFL placed Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy on the exempt list for most of the 2014 season while their legal cases played out. The union challenged the league’s use of the list via a grievance. But an arbitrator ruled that the league’s use of the list is justified.