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What Will it Take for the NFL to Take Domestic Violence Seriously?

What Will it Take for the NFL to Take Domestic Violence Seriously?

Truth be told I don’t know much about football. The only time I really ever think about the sport is when a scandal erupts in the news cycle and I’m blind with rage.

Case in point: Balitmore Ravens running back Ray Rice.

This week Rice received a two game suspension with no pay from the NFL for an altercation with Janay Palmer, his then girlfriend, now wife. Almost instantly after the NFL’s announcement, there was an outcry of criticism that it was too lenient of a sentence. After all, according to a report of the incident, Rice struck Palmer with such force that he rendered her unconscious. Video even surfaced showing the 27-year-old dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the casino elevator where the incident took place and dropping her on the ground face-down.

If you can imagine, the story actually gets worse.

After news of the domestic dispute and Rice’s suspension surfaced, several NFL notables came out in his defense. To start, Ravens head Coach John Harbaugh had the following to say about the incident and his player:

It’s not a big deal. It’s just part of the process…We said from the beginning that the circumstances would determine the consequences. There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He’s a heck of a guy. He’s done everything right since.

Not a big deal? Done everything right since? Heck of a guy? Let’s not forget that Harbaugh is describing a man that beat his girlfriend to the point of unconsciousness.

Harbaugh isn’t the only one to come to Rice’s defense. In fact after Kevin Byrne, Ravens Senior Vice President of Public & Community Relations, found out about Rice’s sentencing, he asked owner Steve Bisciotti if he could speak out in defense of Rice in his blog. About his conversation with Bisciotti, Bryne says, “I wanted to write about Ray Rice and how much respect I have for him.”

His blog touts Ray as a “good guy” who is “smart” and “the most popular person.” He says Rice has showed “great character” over the six years he’s known him. “I liked Ray Rice a lot then. I like Ray Rice a lot today,” he says. You almost forget he is talking about a man who has been suspended for domestic abuse, especially because the only reference to what happened is described as a “bad incident” that was “out of character.”

If that wasn’t enough, in another attempt to salvage Rice’s reputation, Bryne shares a story in his blog post about how Paul Coughlin, a bullying expert the NFL has hired to speak to rookies, has reached out to Rice to encourage him to continue with his anti-bullying work. Of Rice Coughlin says:

Ray is one of the most prominent and active voices in the anti-bullying movement. I told him that from what I understood about his incident with his wife that it was not a form of bullying. Bullying harms and diminishes life itself. A bully intends to harm and continues to do that. It seemed Ray had a conflict with his wife that he regretted, and when he told me about the counseling he was receiving, I sensed a person who knew he made a mistake and was determined to bounce back.”

Are you red with rage yet? If Rice hitting his girlfriend to the point of unconsciousness doesn’t constitute an intention of harm, I don’t know what does.

Outside of the NFL, ESPN panelist Stephen A. Smith has also come under fire for his statements about Rice’s domestic abuse against his wife. While Smith didn’t take the approach of defending Rice, a man he said has “no business putting [his] hands on a woman,” he instead insinuated that women should do their own part not to provoke such violence upon themselves (I was just waiting for the victim-blaming to begin). Smith has since been sentenced with his own suspension from ESPN despite his best efforts to clarify what he meant on Twitter, which really didn’t do much to help his cause.

Perhaps Smith took his mark from Rice in blaming Palmer who in his apology about the incident said:

As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night.

What is Palmer suppose to learn from what happened?

That even if you hit your girlfriend people will tell the world you are a “good guy”? Or that smoking marijuana or taking performance enhancing drugs are far worse crimes than hitting your girlfriend until she passes out? Players in the NFL have historically received sentences of four, six or even eight game suspensions for offenses like that, but let me remind you that Rice will only be sitting out for two games.

If there were any silver lining to this entire story it would be the remarks made by Rice’s former teammate Derrick Mason who has publicly said he believes Rice deserves a harsher punishment:

I think the NFL needs to take a harsher stance toward domestic violence. 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.

Players like Rice are role models for the millions of fans who proudly support their teams. The NFL could have sent a clear message with Rice that they won’t tolerate players who are guilty of domestic violence, but instead they just gave him a gentle slap on the wrist and quickly bandaged him up with cries of his good character.

What kind of a message is the NFL sending to fans when they come to the defense of players who have committed violence against women? What kind of message does this send players?

The NFL can certainly do better. We should expect better.

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Photo Credit: KeithAllison

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272 comments

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7:31AM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

You miss an imperative underlying point: if you don't see celebrities as role models then you don't judge them by a different standard. You don't "let them off easy" but you don't make examples of them either.

Interstingly and fortunately, even as a child I just never saw them as heroes. I don't understand the celebrity interest mentality. I don't understand expecting athletes or actors or politicians to be role models. Where is your own mind? Where is your sense of self?

I don't deny it exists, I just don't understand the faux connection or the need to do so.

7:31AM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

It takes a "real" man to walk away from a confrontation. How would you describe a male who feels that he has to resort to physical violence in order to "win". Personally, I feel that he is not much of a man.

12:48AM PDT on Aug 7, 2014

The NFL needs a 0 tolerance for abuse the message just sent to young boys it's alright to beat the shit out of your wife or mate and still get to play and collect millions and not a damn thing happens to you....really sad.

4:58PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

Sorry for the double post. The comment stayed in the message box so I clicked it again.

4:56PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

@ Sandra: "Too bad that the opportunity to teach a valuable lesson to so many children and adolescents..."

I agree. We need to teach boys that just because the girls rate them sexually by their potential for violence, doesn't mean they have to "perform" violently to impress them.

That's why I suggest the "Feel His Pain Game," kind of a spin on the "Walk a Mile" campaign. Women will volunteer to play a good violent game of "smash-mouth" football. This will sensitize them to exactly what their primal sexual expectations put men through. Don't worry, there will be two ambulances ready and waiting, just like there would be for the men. Then women will understand the true nature of what it feels like to be a disposable male. Especially if they end up with concussions, paralysis or dead.

Certainly, that would teach girls, especially Women's Studies majors, a "valuable lesson."

3:55PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

@ Sandra: "Too bad that the opportunity to teach a valuable lesson to so many children and adolescents..."

I agree. We need to teach boys that just because the girls rate them sexually by their potential for violence, doesn't mean they have to "perform" violently to impress them.

That's why I suggest the "Feel His Pain Game," kind of a spin on the "Walk a Mile" campaign. Women will volunteer to play a good violent game of "smash-mouth" football. This will sensitize them to exactly what their primal sexual expectations put men through. Don't worry, there will be two ambulances ready and waiting, just like there would be for the men. Then women will understand the true nature of what it feels like to be a disposable male. Especially if they end up with concussions, paralysis or dead.

Certainly, that would teach girls, especially Women's Studies majors, a "valuable lesson."

3:27PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

@Martha F. Oh, I beg to differ...I did not, nor would I ever claim that Mrs. Rice deserved to be beaten to a pulp, I am however 1000% certain, that she is partially to blame!!!
Women like her, SEEK out TESTOSTERONE driven men like a heat-seeking missile...If you are not able to understand or admit that, I feel sorry for you!!!
Cheerleaders don't usually spend their free time with the most intelligent guy in school, they most often go after the jocks...and who pray tell are the homecoming kings and queens, the ones who had perfect scores on their SAT/PSAT exams, I think not...If VIOLENCE were not condoned in our society, we wouldn't have Ray Rice types...and women like Janay want to prove that they can tame the ALPHA male!!!...Like it or not, that is the way it is...and that my dear, is not victim bashing, but cold unadulterated reality!!!

2:32PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

ridiculous

12:42PM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

Savages!!!

3:52AM PDT on Aug 6, 2014

outrageous

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