Our Opinion: NFL recovers its fumble


The NFL was rightfully excoriated recently when it suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for only two games after he was charged with assaulting his fiancé (now wife) in an Atlantic City elevator in February. Though it’s not entirely clear what transpired in the elevator, a security video shows Rice picking up and carrying the unconscious woman. According to ESPN, an unreleased video shows Rice hitting the woman in the elevator.

"When the NFL announced that is was suspending Rice for just two games this season, the news was received with some dismay," wrote The New Yorker’s Caitlin Kelly. Rice was also fined $58,000, or what he would have been paid for those two games if he had not been suspended (last year’s salary. If it had been this year’s salary, it would have been more than $500,000). Rice was also required to undergo counseling.

The scorn heaped upon the NFL was unrelenting, especially when some other facts came to light following its "punishment" of Rice.

As Kelly notes, Greg Hardy, also of the Panthers, was found guilty of assaulting and threatening a woman but will be allowed to stay on the team while he appeals the verdict. The Minnesota Vikings released A.J. Jefferson in November after he was arrested for allegedly choking his girlfriend. The NFL suspended him for four games but the Seattle Seahawks signed him in May.

According to the Associated Press’ Teresa M. Walker, since January 2000, 77 NFL players have been involved in 85 domestic violence incidents with six being cut by their teams.

"The NFL suspended six players for one game each, and Rice now is the second player to suspended for two games."

Contrast this to the NFL’s punishment of players who violate its controlled substance policy. The Indianapolis Colts’ Robert Mathis has been suspended four games for using performance-enhancing drugs and the Cleveland Browns’ Josh Gordon has been suspended for a whole year -- yes, a whole year -- for testing positive for marijuana.

Spencer Harrison, writing for the Bleacher Report, noted "It would be fair to say that the league believes it more heinous for a player to take an unapproved fertility drug (Robert Mathis), than for a player to beat a woman."

Following the announcement of Rice’s two-game suspension, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the media the NFL "is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public, and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is especially true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."

We had a hard time taking Goodell as seriously as he implies the NFL takes domestic violence when it suspends a professional athlete for only two games for knocking out a woman, but late on Thursday the news broke that the NFL was immediately implementing a sweeping new initiative to address domestic violence by its players.

Goodell sent all the owners of NFL teams a letter in which he outlined the new policy, stating a first offense by a player would result in a six-game suspension; a second offense would result in a lifetime ban.

That is sure to get the attention of not just the players, but all those pundits and analysts who have minimized the scourge of domestic violence in the United States. That attitude was disturbingly on display when ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith said "What I’ve tried to employ to female members of my family ... ‘let’s make sure we don’t do anything to provoke wrong actions.’"

Victim blaming is nothing new, and many people react by assuming the person who was assaulted, or even worse, brought it on themselves.

Dominique Smith, writing for CBS Sports, is one of the critics of those who truly to fail to understand the horrors of the nation’s domestic violence problem.

"No matter the circumstances," she wrote, "no man should ever put his hands on a woman. If she poses a threat towards you, get yourself out of the situation and call for help. It doesn’t make you weak, it makes you smart."

Unfortunately, many NFL fans won’t care what Rice did or how he was punished as long as he scores touchdowns on the field. We’re sure many of them will be outraged the first time a player is kicked out of the league for committing a second offense, but if that’s what it takes to demonstrate the seriousness of the problem, then so be it.

"One in every four women is a victim of domestic physical violence at some point in her life, and the Justice Department estimates that three women and one man are killed by their partners every day," wrote Snyder. "Between 2000 and 2006, 3,200 American soldiers were killed; during that period, domestic homicide in the United States claims 10,600 lives."

In announcing the new initiative, which also includes a public awareness and education campaign, Goodell acknowledged the NFL has been fumbling the ball when it comes to addressing domestic violence.

"I didn’t get it right," he said. "My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families."

If you or one of your loved ones is suffering from any kind of domestic abuse -- whether it’s physical, emotional or sexual -- help should be sought. In Windham County, the Women’s Freedom Center operates at 24-hour hotline at 802-254-6954. In southern Windsor County, that number is 802-885-2050. In Cheshire County, the Monadnock Center for Violence Prevention offers a hotline at 888-511-6287. In Franklin County, Mass., the Safelink 24-hour hotline is available at 877-785-2020.

If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and dial 911. Stop the violence and perhaps save a life.


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