NFL Follows Court's Lead On Ray Rice Suspension, But Was Penalty Harsh Enough?
The NFL in its two-game suspension of Ravens RB Ray Rice on Thursday "believes it was following the lead that the courts set up," according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. The league believes -- "right or wrong -- that this is a situation where the courts did not allow Ray Rice to do any jail time, did not fine him, did not even order him to serve any probation." He was ordered "into anger management classes." However, the decision "opened up" NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to a "lot of criticism all across the social media world." Goodell has yet to issue discipline for several other cases that fall under the personal conduct category, including 49ers LB Aldon Smith, Panthers DE Greg Hardy and Colts Owner Jim Irsay ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 7/24). THE MMQB's Peter King lists several reasons why Goodell was "softer on Rice than a four-game suspension." A source said that Rice's now-wife, Janay Palmer, "made a moving and apparently convincing case to Goodell during a June 16 hearing at Goodell’s office" in N.Y. that the incident "was a one-time event, and nothing physical had happened in their relationship before or since." The source noted that Palmer "urged Goodell ... to not ruin Rice’s image and career with his sanctions." King notes this was Rice’s "first violation of any NFL policy," and he has been the Ravens' "leading player in volunteer work in the community." Meanwhile, Rice admitted his "mistake soon after the incident and went into counseling" (MMQB.SI.com, 7/25). FS1's Mike Garafolo noted Goodell during the June meeting "heard what he wanted to hear from Ray Rice, and that certainly helped him in knocking this down a couple of games" ("Fox Sports Live," FS1, 7/24).
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE REQUIRES HARSHER PUNISHMENT: Former NFLer Derrick Mason, who played with Rice for three years with the Ravens, said Rice has "learned" from the incident, but he added, "The NFL needs to take a harsher stance toward domestic violence." Mason: "When you suspend a guy for six games for marijuana or (performance-enhancing drugs), you should take at least that approach toward domestic violence. To come back and say, ‘It's going to be two games and he can appeal it,' then those women that follow football start to wonder if the NFL condones violence against women. We know they don't, but the punishment doesn't (reflect) that" (Baltimore SUN, 7/25). USA TODAY's Maggie Hendricks wrote under the header, "NFL Sends Awful Message With Rice Suspension." Hendricks: "Don’t tell me you care about women’s health come October. Don’t pinkwash the whole league and pay lip service to how much you care about women." The NFL had an "opportunity to send a clear and direct message about the consequences of domestic abuse" (USATODAY.com, 7/24). ESPNW's Jane McManus wrote the suspension is "a joke, and a bad one." The NFL is "sending a strong message by issuing such a weak suspension; it's about as meaningful as a yellow card in a soccer game." And "make no mistake, the NFL has a problem on its hands." The NFL may "say it doesn't tolerate domestic violence, but until the league puts its money where its players' fists are, those words are utterly empty" (ESPNW.com, 7/24). BLEACHER REPORT's Mike Freeman wrote this is "yet another signal that the NFL doesn't care nearly enough about domestic violence," and it "may be the best signal yet." This is getting "so bad that we may be reaching a tipping point where the mighty NFL starts to lose fans over this issue, female fans in particular" (BLEACHERREPORT.com, 7/24).
BAD MESSAGE TO FEMALE FANS: ESPN's Keith Olbermann said the "message to the women who the league claims constitute 50% of its fan base is simple: The NFL wants your money." Olbermann: "It will do nothing else for you. It will tolerate those who abuse you verbally and those who abuse you physically" ("Olbermann," ESPN2, 7/24). The Dallas Morning News' Tim Cowlishaw said, "I don't see how they sell this to all their women viewers." The L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke: "The NFL is trying to really push to embrace women and bring women fans in, and then they do this and they act like this is no big deal?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/24). In Florida, Erika Esola writes, "As a woman, the message is clear to me: Commissioner Roger Goodell does not take domestic violence issues seriously." Not only is Rice's "light punishment disrespectful to the NFL's female fan base, it also sets a poor example to young fans" (FLORIDA TODAY, 7/25). SPORTING NEWS' David Steele wrote, "Why shouldn’t women wonder if the NFL cares about them beyond what size and color of team gear they can sell them?" (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 7/24).
NEEDED TO SEND A STRONGER MESSAGE: In N.Y., Bart Hubbuch writes although it is Rice's "first offence and the charges will be dismissed if he finishes a counseling program, Goodell has to realize the NFL as a whole has a problem with abusing women." A six- or eight-game suspension "would have been Goodell’s way to send the message to the NFL’s huge (and growing) female fan base that beating up women is unacceptable." However, he "blew it" (N.Y. POST, 7/25). Also in N.Y., Gary Myers writes Goodell’s "leniency with Rice sets a bad precedent." This became "such a high-profile incident that it was Goodell’s responsibility to send a stronger message ... that this kind of behavior will cost more than two games and another game check" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 7/25). YAHOO SPORTS' Eric Adelson wrote the punishment is "an embarrassment." The NFL is "showing cowardice where it should show control." It would be "one thing" if Goodell "had a soft reputation." But "he doesn't" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/24). CBSSPORTS.com's Gregg Doyel wrote Goodell "didn't make the league look 'weak.'" Instead, he made the NFL "look horrible." Goodell had a "very real, tangible chance to do something on behalf of women everywhere -- on behalf of battered women everywhere, and sadly, they are everywhere -- by going Old Testament on Ray Rice and smiting him to within an inch of his NFL life" (CBSSPORTS.com, 7/24).
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY: In Baltimore, Mike Preston writes Goodell "sent the wrong message." He had the "opportunity to deliver a strong anti-abuse message but whiffed." One message "seems constant: Star players live in a vacuum where there is very little justice." Rice's suspension is "on par for other first-time offenders who have been involved in domestic abuse cases, but the league needs to take a stronger stand" (Baltimore SUN, 7/25). SI.com's Chris Burke wrote Goodell "had a chance to put his foot down here." At the "absolute bare minimum, he could have announced that disgusting acts like the one committed by Rice are at least as heinous in the league's eyes as taking drugs." Instead, the "lenient suspension for Rice did just the opposite." This rather "sickening situation offered Goodell an opportunity to put his foot down on domestic violence, really on violent acts of any kind off the field" (SI.com, 7/24). ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley wrote the "sole argument shouldn't be that the NFL was too easy on Rice." It also is a "fact the league hasn't been harsher on domestic violence issues in the past." Rice's punishment "only falls in line with the league's disappointing track record on this issue." Goodell "certainly could have delivered a stronger message with Rice and made an example out of him for the rest of the league's players." But if Goodell had "suspended Rice for eight games or the entire season, it would be difficult to see that punishment sticking" (ESPN.com, 7/24).
COMPARE & CONTRAST: YAHOO SPORTS' Jay Busbee wrote it is "not hard to see why Rice's penalty drew such protest." In comparison, the NFL suspended Colts DE Robert Mathis four games for "using an infertility drug," and suspended Browns WR Josh Gordon an "entire year for smoking marijuana." The Dolphins also suspended former OG Richie Incognito for "eight games because of harassment that ... apparently never turned physical" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/24). In Phoenix, Kent Somers writes Rice's suspension is "half of what a player receives for taking a substance banned under the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy." However, under the league's PED policy that is part of the CBA, punishment "is spelled out," and Goodell "has no leeway." Somers: "Not so under the substance abuse and conduct policies. The reasoning there is that each case has unique circumstances, and the nuances make it hard to compare one player's transgression with another's" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 7/25).
LEAGUE AT A CROSSROADS: ESPN's Pablo Torre said the NFL is "at a crossroads on a variety of levels." Torre: "If you're the NFL and you're a company ... that has been basically proclaiming that 'the shield,' the logo, the images of your league, are paramount, you need to go and really do some real outreach and start talking to people and start admitting mistakes" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/24). ESPN's Michael Smith said "as much damage as Ray Rice did to the 'shield'" Goodell may have "done a lot of damage" with his ruling ("Numbers Never Lie," ESPN2, 7/24). But Cowlishaw noted the NFL does not "worry about public opinion too much." Cowlishaw: "They look at everything as people will yell and scream and writers and media people will say a lot of stuff and two days later, everybody will be excited about practice and the games. They're allowed to sweep it away. ... Until there's evidence of a loss of female viewers, they're not going to do much" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 7/24).