The NFL: True Stand Against Domestic Violence or a Quick Attempt to Save Face?

December 18, 2015

criminal law, disciplinary

By Talina Handel – Thompson Rivers University JD Student

On February 15, 2014 the prized running back for the Baltimore Ravens, Ray Rice, was arrested for assaulting his wife, Janay Palmer, at a casino in Atlantic City. Four days later video footage surfaced of Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body from an elevator at the casino. During this time the NFL declined to comment on what, if any, sanctions they would place on Rice.

On March 27, 2014 Rice’s charges were increased to aggravated assault, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. In an arguably delayed response to the now very severe domestic violence charges, the NFL imposed a two game suspension on Rice in July 2014, four months after Rice was criminally charged. In August 2014 the NFL showed its first of what would be many inconsistencies in the months to come, and publicly stated that they “didn’t get it right” with the two game suspension. They then proceeded to issue a domestic violence policy for the entire NFL league.

Curiously, eleven days after the NFL issued their new domestic violence policy the full video footage of the incident between Rice and his wife went public and the brutal reality of what actually transpired in the elevator that evening was on display for the world to see: Rice punched his wife directly in the face causing her to fall to the ground unconscious. On the same day this video was released the Baltimore Ravens announced they were releasing Rice from his contract and the NFL subsequently announced that Rice would be suspended from the league indefinitely, a major shift from the initial two game suspension imposed on Rice.

The precarious conduct of the NFL draws the league’s motives into question. Was the domestic violence policy and Rice’s indefinite suspension issued as a true stand against domestic violence and an assertion that the Rice incident was both “violent and horrifying”? Or, was it an attempt to save face in the public eye? This begs the more specific question: did they really not see the video until the public saw it? Or did they in fact see the video, bank on the hope that it would never be released to the public and issued their new domestic violence policy in a meek attempt to cover their bases in the event that the video was leaked?

The possibility that Rice would be playing in the NFL today had the full video not been made public is a very real one. The timing of the NFL’s decision to implement a domestic violence policy is questionable. The policy was an arguably delayed response to the event which triggered it, coming six months after Rice’s arrest but curiously, only eight days before the full video was made public. Rumors swirled that the NFL had in fact seen the full video, with an unnamed law official reporting to the Associated Press that he had a twelve second voicemail from an NFL office number confirming that they had received the full video, a report that the NFL has vehemently denied.

It is highly probable that the NFL likely saw the video before the public did. They were in full cooperation with the police throughout the incident, a fact they asserted in the first six months of Rice’s investigation and then recanted when the video went public. They likely suspended Rice indefinitely simply because they had to. The public was already critical of the weak two game suspension and not imposing a stricter sentence in light of what the video depicted was simply not an option. The NFL needed to save face. And in their attempt at doing so they muddled the waters even more around their stance against domestic violence. Eyebrows were raised in response to the league’s inconsistent conduct and whispers of the NFL’s fumbling are still present today, almost two years after Rice’s arrest.

 

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