Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is suspended for the first two games of the upcoming NFL regular season for an incident regarding domestic abuse, and no one is surprised. Shocked? Yes, as we should be. The suspension, which was officially announced yesterday, is minor compared to the the horror you should receive after watching Rice drag his then-fiancée Janay Palmer out of an elevator at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City on February 15. But for the NFL, the Rice incident is just another day at the office.
Since this night, Rice has been charged with third-degree aggravated assault. Normally, the assault charge carries a three to five year sentence in prison, as well as $15K in fines. Luckily for Rice, he's the beneficiary of a broken judicial system that exploits loopholes for the sake of letting athletes off the hook, no matter the offense. As such, he has been accepted into a "pretrial intervention program" so that he can avoid jail time, which will be completed over the course of a year. Meanwhile, Janay Palmer is now Mrs. Janay Rice. The two were married on March 28, one day after Mr. Rice's indictment. To put it lightly, his apparent remorse for the matter has been lacking.
With these facts in mind, it's fairly easy to see what's happening: Rice beat his wife and received a deserved charge for the attack, while his wife, like so many victims of domestic abuse, stuck with her abuser. On June 17, Mr. and Mrs. Rice met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the incident. Whatever chemistry Goodell saw between the two newlyweds was apparently enough to convince him that this was an isolated attack. This means that Goodell overlooked the fact that women who are abused by their partner are often the victims of repeated abuse. A 2005 study conducted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence concluded that "women who were physically assaulted by an intimate partner averaged 6.9 physical assaults per year by the same partner." Perhaps this would be news to Goodell.
He also must have overlooked, or perhaps never even learned, how difficult it can be for women to escape their abusers, especially in instances where the woman may be financially dependent upon their partner. On its face, the relationship Rice and his wife share seems to fall into this category. Wouldn't any human being become at least slightly financially dependent upon a partner who is making millions and millions more dollars per year than they are? This, of course, doesn't even begin to cover the emotional trauma Mrs. Rice likely feels toward her husband.
There are a list of other facts that could be cited in relation to this attack, but they all reinforce the same idea: Goodell, whether willfully or unintentionally, is ignorant to a very plain and painful reality. To say that his oversight is indefensible really doesn't begin to describe how poorly he handled the situation. It also underscores just how far gone the NFL is in terms of defining any sort of moral code for its players.
Goodell has led the NFL through a number of rocky situations since he took over the league in 2006, both successfully and unsuccessfully: concussion lawsuits, the Washington Redskins name controversy, Spygate, the 2011 player lockout, and the 2012 referee lockout, among others. Some of these issues are on-going, but Goodell has been instrumental in driving the league forward and bringing it to previously unknown heights of financial success, no matter what is happening around the league. However, the commissioner remains woefully inept at creating any sort of suitable system for crime and punishment within the league. As successful as the NFL is in terms of dollars and cents, the arrest record for the league is deplorable. A staggering 26 players have been arrested in 2014 so far. In 2013, 57 separate arrests filled the league's rap sheet. For comparison's sake, only nine players from the NBA were arrested in 2013. On top of that, NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been quick to establish a "no-tolerance" policy for morally repugnant behavior in the Association, as evidenced by his current battle with Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. In just a few months, Silver has managed to make his presence mean something more than just financial ends. Meanwhile, unless it's punishing players for excessive end zone dances or breaking the dress code, Goodell still can't bring his eyes up from the balance sheet.
As a result, the NFL has earned a reputation for its sexism and imbalance both internally and externally. ESPN's Stephen A. Smith failed to properly reprimand the league or Rice when discussing the suspension this morning, saying, among other things, that Janay Rice deserved blame for the incident as well. Smith's words are a powerful indication of how the league is able to operate in the way that it does, as well as the culture of blame surrounding domestic abuse that the league is perpetuating by letting Rice off so easily. Similarly, in May, when Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was asked about the Rice situation and whether he believed it would result in a suspension, Flacco replied: "I don't foresee anything crazy happening with that. I'm expecting to have him [for the entire season]." You don't get the sense that Flacco was speaking cynically about his prediction. Rather, he seemed to expect a free pass as a matter of course for the league.
Can you blame him? The league's suspension policies are terribly skewed. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for substance abuse, an offense which is often accompanied by a minimum suspension of four games. Meanwhile, the most notable suspension for assault came when Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for four games in 2010 following an accusation of sexual assault. Comparatively, in 2009, Michael Vick was suspended for two games for his involvement in a dog-fighting ring. In the NFL's eyes, an abused woman has as much worth as an abused dog, and significantly less worth than a players' right to decide what goes in his body. It really is that bad.
It's hard to know what can force the NFL to take serious action or, more accurately, how they can be lured with incentives into doing so. Turning off the TV, boycotting games: these calls to action are worthless. Suggesting them almost feels like trying to blow up a tank with a BB gun. So long as the league is making money, they won't worry about public perception. Don't be fooled by pink ribbons. Still, however, as long as the NFL keeps on failing to enforce consequences that measure up to the crime, they'll always come up short. The only question is when they'll finally learn what everyone else already knows.