The reaction to Ray Rice’s two-game suspension has been overwhelmingly negative. Critics are charging that Rice got off too lightly and that Commissioner Goodell, in only imposing a two-game punishment on Rice, missed an opportunity to send a much stronger message about domestic violence. Mark Schlereth has been particularly adamant this morning in arguing that Rice’s suspension is inadequate. Schlereth has been pointing out that the NFL has handed down much harsher penalties for far less serious acts. Bayless, Cowherd, Olbermann and Ian Fitzsimmons, among others, have also strongly condemned the NFL’s leniency.
Terrelle Pryor was suspended for the first five games of his rookie season in connection with NCAA violations because he traded Ohio State memorabilia for tattoos. Wade Wilson, an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys, was suspended for five games for using HGH. Obviously, he wasn’t using it to enhance his performance as a coach. In fact, Wilson says he was taking it to help treat his type 2 diabetes.
The point is that the league imposes fines and suspensions for off-field conduct in order, in large measure, to impose standards of behavior that put the league in the best possible light in the eyes of the public. Suspending players for PEDs (whatever my personal feelings about that) fall into a different category, because those punishments are intended, in part, to police the nature of the on-field competition itself. But the league does, indeed, use the personal conduct policy to make statements about the kinds of off-field behavior it finds acceptable.
It may be true that Goodell avoided doling out a longer suspension to Rice because Rice would have appealed such a punishment. But it won’t do, as Jonathan Coachman has been insisting this morning, to argue that Goodell must have seen something in the video that caused him to lighten what otherwise would have been harsher discipline. In fact, Coachman doesn’t know that. He’s assuming it because two games sounds like a pretty piddly penalty. If Goodell thinks two games is adequate for punishment for assault, he should say so. Alternatively, if he thinks there were mitigating factors in this case, he should say so.
Otherwise, many people are going to conclude that, in the grand scheme of things, the NFL regards other kinds of transgressions as much more damaging to the league’s image than what Ray Rice appears to have done to his now wife.
Update: Stephen A. has stepped in it. In so doing, and for all the wrong reasons, he’s probably introduced a new meme-worthy phrase: “the elements of provocation.” Michelle Beadle responded on twitter with, for example, this:
“Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting. Walk. Away.”
Check out her twitter feed for a sense of what she has had to put up with because of that eminently reasonable tweet.
Second Update: Olbermann’s in his element this week. As Olbermann points out, Rice’s actions and his punishment make a sick joke out of concerns that a guy who admits he’s gay might be a distraction significant enough that you wouldn’t want him on your football team. This is a world with a pretty warped set of values and concerns.