The NFL at long last announced the disciplinary action that they intend to take against Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice yesterday, who was arrested earlier this offseason following a domestic dispute with his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, the grisly details of the aftermath being caught on surveillance video.
Rice and Palmer got into a physical confrontation at a casino, during which the former in some way struck the latter in a manner that rendered her unconscious. The video shows Rice attempting to drag Palmer’s unconscious body out of the doors of an elevator.
For his punishment, Commissioner Roger Goodell has determined that a two-game suspension will be sufficient disciplinary action, which will see him miss the opening two games against the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I personally am not overly concerned about the punishment as a fan of the Steelers. Were it a Steelers player, I would not hope for a lesser punishment than I feel is deserved simply because he is an athlete on my preferred team.
What does concern me is the image that it sends to the broader public about the league’s stance on issues such as domestic abuse, which more often than not gets swept under the rug and “dealt with in-house”, so to speak.
The league couldn’t walk away from this one once the footage was released, of course, but a two-game suspension seems awfully modest relative to the punishments dealt to players with other infractions, such as the usage of recreational or performance-enhancing drugs.
My chief concern here relates to the league’s own dictates, and in particular their own justification that they use while handling punishments pertaining to personal indiscretions, many of which may fall under a moral rather than legal precedent.
The NFL, particularly in recent years, has allowed itself to extend a broad hand when it comes to disciplining their athletic employees’ personal indiscretions, and to do so, they have invoked the word “integrity”, as in maintaining the integrity of the shield, of the brand of the National Football League.
Those employees who cast the league in a bad light face the consequences. Not many in recent years have cast the NFL in a worse light than the short but stout running back dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator after being the cause of her state of unawareness, excepting Aaron Hernandez, of course.
There is no question that Rice’s actions are detrimental in a very serious way to the integrity of the shield, particularly given the male-dominated nature that tends to follow the game.
The NFL has, especially lately, striven to grow its female fan base, promoting breast cancer awareness during the month of October and selling pink jerseys in support—though admittedly the pink Ray Rice jersey may seem a bit tainted at the moment.
I am curious as to how the commissioner expects its female fan base to respond to this equivalent of a slap on the wrist punishment for the very public display of domestic abuse, an issue that may be deeper in the sports world—and frankly the world at large—than people would be comfortable acknowledging. Here is just a small sampling of that response:
@Steelersdepot Really pissed off
— Sherry Proctor-Oonk (@sproonk) July 24, 2014
@Steelersdepot Video shows him dragging her across the floor unconscious. If he’d toked it’d be 8x more?! The response is not fitting.
— Maria McGee (@JusticeSiren) July 24, 2014
@Steelersdepot it’s a joke. he dragged an unconscious woman out of an elevator. it’s basically a wrist slap.
— Anne Boyle (@aboyle3) July 24, 2014
@Steelersdepot It sends the wrong message about the seriousness of domestic abuse. Should have been a tougher penalty.
— Erin (@SteelersFanTN) July 24, 2014
— Kat Harry (@katharry33) July 24, 2014
And it’s not just women that have and will continue to respond negatively to the lax disciplinary action. The league has gained a reputation over the last few years for being overly harsh in its punishments, but when it comes to this matter, the opposite opinion seems nearly universally to be true.
To make this clear, whatever Rice or Goodell have said in relation to the disciplinary action is wholly irrelevant. No matter how much remorse Rice feels; no matter how strong Goodell believes that he is and will continue to seek help and improve as a person to get past this incident, the result of the punishment is a public relations nightmare.
Quite simply, people look around and they see players being suspended for four games because they accidentally and unwittingly used a banned supplement, and then they see another player receive a suspension of half the duration for committing an act that could have landed him in prison. That is a mental perception that no amount of verbal justification can untangle.
Judging by the response, it’s quite clear that there are many who see this punishment as a disservice to the serious nature of the subject of domestic abuse. If the NFL is concerned about its public image, then it should have a vested interest in its reputation, and right now it’s garnering a reputation of an organization that trivializes an issue that already receives less attention than it should.