Ray Rice and the NFL’s policy on domestic violence

Dear Dwonna:

I know you’re a lifelong sports fan and that you’re a big fan of the Chicago Bears. You’ve been really quiet on the Ray Rice situation, and now that Roger Goodell has announced stiffer penalties for players who are convicted of domestic violence, I would like to know your opinions on this.




Dear Vicki:

Here’s a little background for those who are unfamiliar with Ray Rice and his assault on Janay (Palmer) Rice, his fiancée at the time.

On February 15, 2014, a surveillance video captured Ray Rice—a running back for the Baltimore Ravens—dragging his unconscious fiancée from an elevator at Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey. A “sparse” arrest summons charged Ray with committing an assault by “attempting to cause bodily injury to J. Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.” Neither Palmer nor Rice requested medical attention, and both were arrested and charged with simple assault. It’s not clear why police arrested Palmer, and Ray Rice’s attorney described the incident as a “minor physical altercation.”

Although the video TMZ obtained four days later only showed the aftermath of the incident between the couple, viewers could see Rice lifting and dragging an unconscious Palmer by her arms out of the elevator and “laying her on the floor.” One witness to the assault said that Rice threw an “uppercut,” and another person said that Rice hit Palmer “like he [would punch] a guy.”

On March 27, 2014, a grand jury indicted Ray Rice for third-degree aggravated assault for “allegedly striking Palmer unconscious.” The two married the following day, and according to the Baltimore Sun, the couple had planned a summer wedding before “moving the date up without a public explanation.” Another source said that the March ceremony “had been planned for a couple of weeks.”

On May 23—almost two months after the assault at the casino—Ray Rice and Janay Palmer Rice publically spoke for the first time on what happened in Atlantic City. Appearing at a news conference with his mother and their daughter, and Ray Rice apologized for “the situation my wife and I were in,” and he promised that he was “working every day to be a father, a better husband and a better role model.” “I failed miserably,” Ray Rice said. “but I wouldn’t call myself a failure cause I’m working myself back up.” Janay Rice, too, apologized “for her role in that night,” though simple assault charges against her were eventually dropped.

Prosecutors eventually offered Ray Rice a plea deal that would have spared him jail time, placed him on probation for one year, and required him to attend anger management counseling. Rice rejected this deal, and instead he pleaded not guilty and was accepted into a diversionary program for a first-time offenders program that could allow him to clear his record of charges “in as few as six months.” Rice’s attorney told reporters that Rice must also stay out of trouble for the next year and continue to receive family counseling with his wife, who had written a letter in support of him. “We’re very happy with the result,” Rice’s attorney said. Rice “will now be able to move forward with his life, and he and Janay are looking forward to putting this behind them.”

On July 24, the NFL announced that it was suspending Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season under the league’s personal conduct policy, telling Rice that the punishment “comes with the expectation” that he will “continue with his counseling.” “I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in his letter to Rice. “I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.”

Many people were, rightfully so, outraged at the light punishment that Roger Goodell meted out to Rice, who said in response to criticism that the NFL has a “very firm policy that domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL and that there will be consequences for that.” In contrast, the NFL suspended Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon for one year for his third violation of the NFL’s drug policy for smoking pot, Denver Broncos wide receiver Wes Welker was suspended for four games for testing positive for amphetamines, and Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsey was suspended for six games and fined $500,000 after pleading guilty to driving while intoxicated. Get caught smoking pot for the third time? One year. Knocking out cold and then dragging your unconscious fiancée from an elevator? Two games. The NFL should have used more common sense when meting out punishments so that smoking pot didn’t warrant a stiffer punishment than beating up your woman.

Even ESPN seems to have more sense than the NFL, as the company suspended “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith for a week after saying on his show—in response to the Ray Rice incident—that women should make sure that they “don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions” from a man who might later abuse them. No matter how much a woman might “provoke” her significant other, a REAL man never puts his hands on a woman. Ever. A REAL man walks away. Every. Single. Time. That’s what Stephen A. Smith should have been telling listeners.

After weeks of criticism—mostly because of the apparent discrepancy between “suspensions that result from violations of the league’s drug policy, versus those incurred through the code of personal conduct”—Commissioner Roger Goodell announced sweeping changes to the Personal Conduct Policy. In a letter to NFL owners last week, Goodell said that violations of the Personal Conduct Policy “regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense.” A second offense, Goodell announced, will “result in banishment from the NFL for at least one year,” and although a person can petition for reinstatement after one year, “there will be no presumption or assurance that the petition will be granted.” This policy applies to all NFL personnel and not just players.

Goodell then apologized for how the NFL handled Ray Rice’s punishment, acknowledging that the league had “allowed” their “standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue.” The commissioner also admitted that his “disciplinary decision” led many people to “question…whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.” “I didn’t get it right,” Goodell writes, “Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”

New York Giants president Jim Mara said that he was “100 percent supportive of the new policy” and that the NFL needed to “make a stand and be much tougher on domestic violence.” Some people questioned whether or not Goodell had changed his stance because of the public outcry, but it really does not matter why he decided to toughen the NFL’s punishment for those who commit acts of domestic violence. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said that although she was “personally disappointed in the Rice suspension,” her goal was to “figure out how to make it right.” “I think that whatever moves a business or an entity in the right direction on this issue is good movement,” she said.

I agree with Kim Bundy that any time an organization does the right thing it is a good thing, and it’s not necessarily our job to question their motives. As Gloria Steinem said, “Whenever one person stands up and says, ‘Wait a minute, this is wrong,’ it helps other people do the same.” In a sport where violence is epidemic and where players often have difficulty turning off this violence when they walk off the field at the end of a game, we should applaud the NFL for establishing stricter punishments for those who are involved in domestic violence incidents.

The NFL has appropriately articulated to its players and employees that domestic violence will no longer be tolerated and that incidents will be swiftly adjudicated, and I hope that they will also establish programs that teach players how to avoid domestic violence situations so that the public never has to witness a Ray Rice-like incident again. May the NFL’s bungling of the Ray Rice situation and the public’s subsequent outcry at his paltry suspension be the beginning of a more candid dialogue about the violence that too often happens between men and women because domestic violence is everyone’s problem, and love should never hurt.



On Monday, September 8, 2014, TMZ released the video that showed what happened in the elevator BEFORE Ray Rice dragged an unconscious Janay Palmer out of it. Here is a link to the video: http://digg.com/video/tmz-releases-video-of-ray-rice-knocking-out-his-fiancee.

Saying that the video is disturbing fails to capture the horror of what happened in that elevator, and hours after its release, the Baltimore Ravens terminated Ray Rice’s contract, thereby making the running back a free agent. Although the NFL says that they requested to see the video before ultimately suspending Rice for two games–many people question the veracity of this statement–once the video became public, the NFL indefinitely suspended Rice, leaving many to wonder if this is the end of Ray Rice’s NFL career.

Though it is easy to criticize Janay (Palmer) Rice for standing by–and one month later marrying–a man who would so brutally assault her, I applaud the Baltimore Ravens for loudly (albeit a little late) declaring that the organization will neither tolerate nor condone domestic violence.

Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton tweeted, “As players we must speak up. Stand up for what’s right. I don’t give a damn who u are or how much money you make. No place for this.” Many thanks to the Baltimore Ravens for finally doing what the NFL didn’t have the testicles to do in February when the video first became public–to protect those who are battered by the men who say they love them.


ray rice

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