Two activist groups on Friday will deliver petitions with more than 100,000 signatures calling on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to better “address the NFL’s domestic violence problem” in the wake of criticism over the league’s punishment of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
CREDO Action and UltraViolet, two advocacy networks, organized petition drives last Friday after Goodell handed Rice a two-game suspension for his arrest on domestic violence charges. Rice allegedly punched his then-fiancee at an Atlantic City casino in February and was caught on security video dragging her out of a hotel elevator while she was unconscious. Echoing widespread sentiment of the suspension, the two groups called the punishment “woefully inadequate” and “meager” in a release that said they had collectively received more 116,863 signatures on their separate petitions.
“The NFL has a serious domestic abuse problem that it has failed miserably at addressing,” Shaunna Thomas, the co-founder of UltraViolet, said in the release. “Their reaction to the Ray Rice case is nothing short of shameful. Yet, is also sadly predictable as the league has made very clear that it is fine looking the other way when it comes to cases of domestic abuse. It is far past time the NFL clean up it’s act and learn to respect women.”
CREDO’s petition called on the NFL to provide better standards for domestic violence and sexual assault punishments, noting that the league regularly issues harsher punishments for recreational and performance-enhancing drug use (under its collectively-bargained drug policy) than it does for violence against women. UltraViolet’s petition tells the NFL to change its policies “so that violent offenders like Ray Rice receive suspensions that reflect the severity of the crime.”
“We simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women,” Goodell wrote in a letter to Rice informing him of the suspension. The commissioner, who is attending Hall of Fame ceremonies in Canton, Ohio this weekend, has not spoken publicly about the Rice suspension despite the widespread criticism of it.
Adolpho Birch, the league’s executive vice president for labor policy and government affairs, struggled to justify the short suspension in an interview with ESPN last week, saying: “We believe the discipline we issued is appropriate. It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think it’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior.”
Rice held a press conference at the Ravens training camp facility Thursday to publicly apologize. “I take full responsibility for my actions,” Rice said. “What happened that night is something that I’m going to pay for the rest of my life.”