Ray Rice, former running back for the Baltimore Ravens, is not the only professional sportsman or NFL darling to be charged with domestic abuse. Infamously dropped from the Ravens on Sept. 8, along with an indefinite suspension from the NFL for assaulting his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer, in an elevator last February, Ray Rice is one among a long list of domestic violence offenders that includes professional sportsmen from the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. However Rice’s recent punishment has set a precedent for the NFL that others will hopefully follow.
Severely criticized for his leniency (the NFL has shown more inclination to punish marijuana violations in the past), NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, “took responsibility” for his mistake in a letter to fans and sponsors for what was initially a two game suspension for Rice, and announced a new NFL policy against domestic violence that includes a six-game suspension without pay for first offenders and a lifetime ban for second-time offenders. NFL punishment got more severe for Rice, however when a second video (in addition to the one showing him dragging Palmer’s unconscious body from the elevator) surfaced showing Rice striking Palmer inside the elevator.
This video, made public, was undoubtedly instrumental in determining the NFL punishment for Rice and for the new NFL policy, but many such cases of domestic abuse in other institutions such as the NBA, MLB and NHL have received little to no punishment at all. Take Brett Meyers, pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, who was charged in 2006 for striking his wife in the face and pulling her by the hair in public; Semyon Varlamov, goalie for the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, who was arrested for kicking his girlfriend to the floor and stomping on her chest; or Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers who was arrested after police confirmed visible injuries on his pregnant wife. All of these athletes were back the next game. Brett Meyers’ general manager specifically defended his choice by saying, “He’s our best pitcher.”
These players actions as well as the non-action of their organizations show a blatant disregard for human rights, and while some may argue that these organizations do not have a responsibility for the morality of their player’s outside of the game, most of these athletes sign contracts that state otherwise. It is stated in the NFL’s code of conduct for example that, “It is not enough to simply avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead as an employee of the NFL or a member club, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible [and] promotes the values upon which the league is based.” These athletes are not only representatives of their teams, and professional sports organizations, they are public figures and role models, whether they choose to act like it or not.
This means that while coaches, managers, and commissioners hide behind “due process” and wait for the victim to drop charges (an extremely common phenomenon with regards to domestic violence victims), insufficient evidence, or some other circumstance to fail the conviction, people across the country watch their inaction and interpret their silence for apathy, or worse, support. Who knows if the NFL is actually going to walk their talk, but for institutions such as these that are so visible and influential in our society and that also claim to have a commitment to “social responsibility” and “ethical” conduct, writing a mission statement or artfully-crafted PR tweet is not enough; they have to take a serious stand against issues like domestic violence and show us that the abuse will not be tolerated, even if that means taking a stand against their players.
Collegian Columnist Caroline King can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @cgking7