On May 30, 2014, I wrote “Right Punishment, Wrong Reason For Washington” relating to the year-long 2014 NFL suspension of Cardinal star linebacker, Daryl Washington. I was direct and unequivocal in my criticism that rather than the NFL’s season-long suspension of Washington being for violating the league’s drug policy (for purported use of marijuana), Washington’s onerous suspension should have been for his May, 2013 domestic violence offense for which he was convicted in late April of this year.
At that time, I questioned what the NFL would do with Ray Rice regarding the domestic violence he inflicted on his then-fiancé and current wife, Janay Palmer, wondering aloud whether he would get “a mere four game suspension,” the equivalent of a drug offense suspension. Well, I was wrong. Rice did not get a “mere four games. “ Instead, he was given a paltry two-game suspension.
As the story goes, Rice struck Ms. Palmer hard enough to render her unconscious. A February 15th video captured Rice dragging Ms. Palmer from an elevator in a hotel in Atlantic City. Rice and his wife have since become married and have reportedly been involved in marriage counseling. Everyone claims to be on the mend. Well, everyone except for anyone who recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence.
Apparently, Ms. Palmer has forgiven Rice and does not want him to be punished any further. That seems to have resonated for Commissioner Goodell, given the leniency he showed to Rice. But does the Commish understand the cycle of violence associated with domestic violence? Did he confer with experts in the field to gain insight into the dynamics of domestic violence before he handed down the two-game suspension for Rice? I wonder. The two-game suspension is even more curious given the fact that in 2012, Goodell announced that the league was going to clamp down on domestic violence. Well Mr. Commissioner, getting tough on something requires you to actually get tough, rather than just spewing rhetoric.
Let me set the record straight. I have been a huge Ray Rice fan; that is, Ray Rice the football player. He broke onto the scene with his amazing work ethic and productivity while attending Rutgers from 2005 to 2007 and up until last season, he kept it going during his time in the NFL. Given his size, he has no business competing day in and day out against the behemoths of the NFL who are singularly focused on planting him into the ground.
But, to me, character matters.
The NFL has been swift and unequivocal in addressing matters they deem to be of importance. Allow me some examples. When the “facts” about “Bounty-Gate” came to light, the NFL was merciless in its approach against the New Orleans Saints. Head Coach Sean Peyton was suspended for one year, Assistant Coach Joe Vitt was suspended for six games and Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended for an indefinite term, which turned out to be for just less than a full year. Even the team’s General Manager, Mickey Loomis, was suspended for half of the 2012 season. The basis for these punishments was that there was a culture within the team to intentionally aim to hurt opposing players. While I support the league efforts, let us not forget that they punished people who are in a sport in which physical force against an opponent is emphasized and injury is considered to be just part of the game.
There is an additional example showing protection for players. If, during a game, a defensive back lays a hit on a defenseless wide receiver coming over the middle and renders that player unconscious, a significant fine and possible game suspension can be expected. Yet when a man hits a woman hard enough to knock her out, you get a press conference of contrition and a two game suspension.
When an offensive lineman menaces another offensive lineman in Miami (see Richie Incognito vs. Jonathan Martin), he gets a four game suspension and an eventual release from the team, all without “laying a glove on him.” Yet when a man uses his physical strength to menace a woman, you get an “I am sorry” and a proverbial slap on the wrist.
The locker room culture in the NFL (and most sports for that matter) is also of interest to me. Ryley Cooper is video-taped in 2013 saying vile things about African-Americans and, according to NFL insiders, “he must then earn back the respect of his teammates,” even though none of his comments were directed at any of them. Yet when Ray Rice commits domestic violence and then holds a press conference this week to show his sincere regret, he is not required to earn back the respect of his teammates. In fact, there is video of his teammates waiting in line to show Rice their support and respect for him following his press conference.
So, Mr. Commish, allow me to provide you with information that you might find to be useful when (not “if”) circumstances of this nature arise in the future. First, domestic violence is not a “they” problem for the perpetrator and his victim. It is a “he” problem. Noting “they” are in counseling together is perhaps good for Mr. and Mrs. Rice but is not a cure for domestic violence. Second, victims of domestic violence find it to be very difficult to speak out against their perpetrators. This is due to a myriad of reasons, including what is known as the “honeymoon period” after an act of domestic violence where the wrongdoer is very apologetic and remorseful. Also, if there is an imbalance in power between the parties, it is a difficult task for the victim to stand up against the perpetrator for fear of retaliation. Additionally, there is an economic issue, where the victim is often concerned that jail or suspension from work would impact negatively the finances and needs of the family.
In a league constantly fighting for control of its image, this was the right time to make an example about behavior that is a cancer in our society. You, Mr. Commish, did not do that. You just allowed them to kiss and make-up.