President Barack Obama said the NFL has been "behind the curve" in addressing domestic violence.
"The most prominent example was the Ray Rice situation," Obama said Friday on ESPN Radio's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd." "I am so glad that we got more awareness about domestic violence. Obviously, the situation that happened in the Rice family was unfortunate, but it did lift up awareness that this is a real problem that we’ve got to deal with."
The NFL was strongly criticized for initially suspending the Baltimore Ravens player for only two games after a violent altercation with his then-fiancee in an Atlanta hotel. Rice was suspended from the league indefinitely after graphic elevator footage of the incident was released.
"The way it was handled also indicates that the NFL was behind the curve, as a lot of institutions are behind the curve, in sending a clear message," Obama said. "You don’t want to be winging it. You want to have clear policies in place that will be helpful in sending a message whether it’s in sports or any place else."
President Barack Obama welcomed the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens at the White House, June 5, 2013. (Getty Images)
Obama was making the radio rounds to promote signups for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He commended Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James for helping to spread the word, though did not specifically mention James' recent high-profile act of wearing a T-shirt that said, “I can’t breathe,” a reference to Eric Garner, the man who died after he was placed in a chokehold by a New York City police officer over the summer.
Obama said there is a long tradition of professional athletes acting as advocates.
"I appreciate the work of LeBron and Magic [Johnson] and other folks are doing help to drive this in terms of getting health insurance," Obama said. "When you think about some of our greatest sports heroes – Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe — they spoke out on issues that mattered at pretty critical times."
"There’s times when there are important issues out there, for athletes to recognize they are citizens as well as entertainers, they’ve got a voice that is legitimate, I think is important, it’s useful," Obama added.