President Obama said on Friday that the NFL has been "behind the curve" in responding to accusations of domestic violence against its players, crediting the controversy surrounding former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice with raising awareness of the issue and spurring change.
"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 root out and then have to change their attitudes and their behavior, and it has to start young," the president said during an ESPN Radio interview. "But the way it was handled also indicates that, you know, the NFL was behind the curve, as a lot of institutions who've been behind the curve, in sending a clear message."
Rice was indefinitely suspended by the NFL in September after the release of a video showed him punching his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in the face in an elevator in New Jersey. The league came under fire for not acting sooner, though, given that footage released seven months earlier, in February, showed Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator.
At the end of November, Rice won his appeal of the suspension and was reinstated to the NFL, freeing him to sign with another team.
The controversy prompted the NFL to overhaul its policies on assault and domestic violence, and on Wednesday, the league announced that NFL teams unanimously approved the revised guidelines.
The president said Friday that the episode highlights the need for institutions like the NFL to take a more proactive approach to domestic violence.
"You don't want to be winging it when something like this happens," he added. "You want to have clear policies in place. The fact that policies have now been established, I think, will be helpful in sending a message that there's no place for that kind of behavior in society, whether it's in sports or anyplace else."
The president also suggested that an "old boys network" in the NFL might have created "blind spots" on the issue.
"This is not unique to the NFL, but it may be a little more pronounced in the NFL," he said. "Certain behaviors have been tolerated historically that really should not have been tolerated. So hopefully this is a wake-up call, and people start thinking about this a little more systematically."
Mr. Obama was on ESPN Radio to urge people to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The law's three-month open enrollment period for 2015 coverage began in November.