Football fans have good reason to be angry with the NFL. On May 1, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was indicted on a charge of aggravated assault for knocking his then fiancee unconscious in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City, New Jersey in February. He was caught on surveillance footage, dragging her body out of the elevator and onto the floor. The NFL’s punishment for him? A measly two-game suspension.
Rice publicly apologized after the footage aired on TV and across the Internet, saying, “I’m still the same guy. As me and Janay wish we could take back 30 seconds of our life, we definitely sit here and tell you that we are better parents, we are better lovers and also better friends.” His now-wife has stood by Rice.
On Thursday, at another press conference, he dodged two questions about how he actually harmed her. “I just don’t want to keep reliving the incident,” he said. “Every time I have to keep living it, it doesn’t bring any good to me.”
For good reason.
It doesn’t matter whether Rice, the father of a 2-year-old daughter, is sorry, or that he’s supposedly trying to be a better person. He is accused of committing a crime — one with a prison sentence of three to five years — and the NFL’s disciplinary actions should reflect the serious nature of the incident. There is no excuse for Rice’s behavior and no excuse for the NFL’s leniency.
A two-game suspension for egregiously violating the NFL personal conduct policy sends a message that domestic violence shouldn’t be taken seriously. In the eyes of the public, the punishment makes it appear that who you are matters more than how you act. Can you imagine the uproar if a public school teacher in the same situation was “suspended” from two days of teaching?
The punishment doesn’t even hold up compared with other NFL suspensions. Lane Johnson, with the Philadelphia Eagles, received a four-game suspension for taking a prescription medication he said he didn’t know was on the NFL’s list of banned performance-enhancing drugs. Lavon Brazill of the Indianapolis Colts received a one-year suspension for marijuana use.
In fact, of the 16 NFL infractions in 2014 that did not involve Rice, only two resulted in players being suspended for fewer than three games.
The NFL has the power to improve cultural attitudes about domestic violence. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could have sent a strong message with Rice’s punishment: that aggression might make a good player on the field but will not be tolerated elsewhere. Instead, he handed down a light punishment, in part because he said he believes Rice is “sincere” in his “desire to learn from this matter.”
People do tend to seem sincere when their job and salary are on the line. But even if Rice is being honest in his desire to change, it doesn’t mean the incident should be minimized. His two-game suspension makes it seem as if the NFL couldn’t care any less.