The National Football League has decided to suspend Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for the first two games of the 2014 season, according to multiple reports, a paltry punishment that results from Rice’s arrest on aggravated assault charges against his then-fiancée in February.
Rice was arrested after surveillance video showed him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel. Police allegedly have video of Rice punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, before they entered the elevator. Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges but, as a first time offender, was allowed to enter a diversionary community service program that will allow him to avoid jail time.
The suspension, first reported by Yahoo’s Rand Getlin and later confirmed by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and others, is expected to be announced officially later today. It means Rice will miss games against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Baltimore’s biggest division rivals. Rice will also face a $58,000 fine on top of lost game salaries, according to Schefter.
Much more significantly, if these reports are true, a two-game suspension sends a terrible message about how the NFL views incidents of domestic violence. The Rice saga was already evidence of that when Palmer apologized for her role in the incident at a Ravens-hosted press conference in May. And the NFL has done little to address the prevalence of domestic violence and sexual assault charges that are facing or have faced its current and former players. But this makes it even worse, considering that the suspension pales in comparison to drug-related suspensions other players have received. Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, for instance, is currently facing a 16-game suspension for testing positive for marijuana. Gordon has violated the drug policy multiple times, but even first-time offenders (for both performance enhancing or recreational drugs) can face longer suspensions than Rice received.
The NFL has set suspensions for both marijuana and steroid use, while incidents like Rice’s are handled under the league’s personal conduct policy and handed down by commissioner Roger Goodell. Goodell has faced rightful criticism for the harshness of some of those punishments in the past, especially amid concerns that penalties aren’t necessarily equal for players and executives. But even without a set suspension criteria, the message here seems clear. This is an issue that, along with sexual assault, is an obvious problem in need of addressing throughout the league. Instead, it appears the NFL believes that Gordon’s decision to repeatedly smoke weed is eight times more serious than Rice deciding to put an uppercut to the face of his future wife.