Column: A black eye for the NFL

Ray Rice, seen here holding his annual New Rochelle youth football camp in 2013, was recently suspended two games by the NFL for his role in a domestic abuse incident. Sports Editor Mike Smith—one of many—feels the brief suspension sends the wrong message. Photo/Mike Smith

Ray Rice, seen here holding his annual New Rochelle youth football camp in 2013, was recently suspended two games by the NFL for his role in a domestic abuse incident. Sports Editor Mike Smith—one of many—feels the brief suspension sends the wrong message. Photo/Mike Smith

I’ve got to hand it to the NFL. If they were looking for a way to make Ray Rice not look like the biggest bad guy in this whole mess, they’ve succeeded in a major way.

By now, everyone is familiar with the Ray Rice incident. In February, while in an Atlantic City casino with his then-fiancée, and now wife, Janay Palmer, Rice was accused of knocking the woman unconscious. The hotel’s video surveillance captured Rice dragging her limp body out of an elevator before he was stopped by a hotel security guard.

The police got involved, Rice was eventually indicted on a third-degree assault charge, and the NFL—led by a commissioner who has long been seen as the league’s “hammer of justice”—had a decision to make.

And what did they do?

They punted.

Rice was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season, docked a pay check from a third, and sent on his merry way to join the Baltimore Ravens at training camp.

Rice’s actions were despicable, for sure. But perhaps the only thing more harmful than the physical violence, in my opinion, was the NFL’s response.

The National Football League has not been shy about handing out suspensions in the past. Terrell Pryor was suspended for five games by the NFL for violating NCAA rules. In 2013, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos was suspended four games for testing positive for marijuana, a drug that is legal in the state of Colorado. Over the last five years, the league has been vigilant in punishing players for end zone celebrations and unauthorized patches on jerseys.

But punching a woman in the face and knocking her out? Not a big deal, bro. Two games for you.

What this tells me is that Roger Goodell and the NFL simply don’t care about its female fan base. They’re more concerned with policing ticky-tack violations—and waging a campaign against a drug that is being legalized by more and more states—than actually taking a stand against a long-ingrained problem in our culture.

The failure to properly punish Rice for his transgressions sends a message to athletes; domestic abuse simply isn’t a big deal.

The problem with the Ray Rice case is it’s not just about Ray Rice. Stories about athletes mistreating women‑and the subsequent cover-ups by those who are protecting their athletic interests, like in the case of Heisman winner Jameis Winston, are commonplace these days.

Basically, the takeaway here is that the assault of a woman is a terrible, horrible thing–but if you’ve got a chance to be an All-Pro this year, maybe she had it coming.

It’s unlikely that the NFL—even in the face of public outrage—will do anything to lengthen Rice’s suspension. It’s made its bed and set a terrible precedent for future cases, essentially giving the middle finger to the scores of women who watch the product on Sundays.

It’s still mind-boggling to me how a punch in the face warrants a slap on the wrist, but I guess it’s just in step with the NFL’s policy toward women.

God forbid you dunk through the goalpost after a touchdown though. There’s no room in this league for that kind of behavior.

 

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About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.