Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, has made it his mission since taking the job to make sure players are punished swiftly and severely for off the field behavior he deems detrimental to the league. He has been very strict with this, and has usually shown a great ability to gauge public perception on the matter and hand down an applicable punishment. However, in the case of Ray Rice, the Commissioner and the NFL proved that the biggest professional sports league in America still has major flaws in how it goes about suspending players for conduct in their personal lives.
By now, most NFL fans know that Ray Rice was recently suspended for two games for his involvement in a domestic violence dispute between himself and his then-fiancé in an Atlantic City casino. Although he was not charged in a court of law, there was video evidence that saw him physically dragging his then-fiancé, who was completely unconscious, out of an elevator. He has now apologized for the incident, calling it “the biggest mistake of his life,” but even he must feel he was given a lenient punishment after he chose not to appeal the suspension.
The Ray Rice case is a tricky one for the NFL because he has not been charged and what actually happened in that elevator cannot be proven. However, in similar previous cases, the NFL has shown an ability to grasp how the public felt about the issue and punish that player appropriately. A good comparison case is the sexual assault allegations Ben Roethlisberger faced in 2010 when he was suspended six games, but later appealed to get the suspension reduced to four games. It is a good comparison because Big Ben was similarly not charged in any court of law, but was also persecuted by the public perception. However, that suspension was three times as long for an alleged crime that featured violence against women. In the Rice case, it seems the NFL was not able to gauge how the public felt about the issue of domestic violence. Now the league is facing public and media backlash that it is unaccustomed to and will have to fight through.
A two-game suspension just does not seem like a severe enough punishment for such a complicated issue such as domestic violence, even if Ray Rice has not been charged for anything. The suspension seems especially lenient when one takes into account that a player in the NFL can currently be suspended four games for smoking marijuana. Take the case of Josh Gordon, who is facing a yearlong suspension for testing positive for codeine cough syrup. The length of his suspension is because he is a repeat offender in the substance abuse program, but when the acts of Roethlisberger and Gordon are compared to Rice’s, Ray Rice definitely seems to be coming out on top.
The NFL will deservedly take a good amount of backlash for the lenient two-game suspension of Rice for allegedly hitting his wife. They have proven with this case that the policy the league uses for suspending players for personal conduct needs to be reevaluated. This suspension is a lucky one for Ray Rice and any blame for a lack of harshness in the suspension should not be placed on the player, but rather Goodell and the NFL.
Commentary by Max Petkevicius