Obama: NFL 'was behind the curve'

President Obama said Friday that the NFL was "behind the curve" in its handling of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case.

"The way it was handled also indicates the NFL was behind the curve as a lot of institutions have been behind the curve in sending a clear message," Obama said during an interview with ESPN's "The Herd with Colin Cowherd."

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"You don't want to be winging it when something like this happens," he added. You want to have clear policy in place."

Obama also said the NFL had a history of operating as "a little bit of an old boys network" and that "certain behaviors have been tolerated historically."

"Hopefully, this is a wake-up call, and people start thinking about this a little more," he said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has come under fire for his handling of the case. Rice was initially suspended for just two games, but then banned indefinitely and cut from the Ravens after video surfaced of him violently striking his then-fiancée in an elevator.

An arbitrator later reinstated Rice, saying the NFL had mishandled the punishment, and Goodell earlier this week announced extensive revisions to the league's conduct policy.

Obama said he was encouraged by that move and that the new policies would "be helpful in sending a message there's no place for that kind of behavior in society."

He also said he was glad that the case had raised "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 we have to root out, and men have to change their attitudes and behavior," Obama said.

The president taped the interview — the first of three radio spots recorded on Friday — as part of his push for the Affordable Care Act.

He said the ObamaCare website was "working flawlessly now" and encouraged the "weekend warriors" listening to the show to sign up for coverage before the Dec. 15 deadline to secure insurance by the beginning of the new year.

But the interview focused on the intersection of sports and politics. Obama said that, although he himself watched sports because he did not "want to be inundated with a bunch of chatter about politics" during his down time, he also saw athletes speaking out about social justice as "important." 

Obama noted the legacy of athletes like Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell and Arthur Ashe who "spoke out on issues that matter at pretty critical times."

"They're citizens as well as entertainers, and they've got a voice that is legitimate," he said.

Obama's comments appeared to be a nod to recent actions from athletes protesting grand jury decisions in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, N.Y., to not indict white police officers in the killings of two unarmed black men.

Players on the NFL's St. Louis Rams earlier this month raised their arms in the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture used by protesters in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown.

In the New York case, Eric Garner died after being placed in a police chokehold. The incident was caught on tape, with Garner repeatedly telling officers "I can't breathe" before his death.

A number of NBA stars have worn "I Can't Breathe" T-shirts ahead of games, including LeBron James, Derrick Rose and Kobe Bryant.