The publication of surveillance video that showed Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator has reignited controversy over the NFL’s response to acts of domestic violence committed by its players, so much so that after originally handing Rice a two-game suspension in August the NFL suspended him indefinitely Monday afternoon, just minutes after the Ravens terminated his contract.
Rice’s situation has fostered discussion about the NFL and domestic violence for months, and criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s original punishment led him to institute a new league-wide domestic violence and sexual assault policy before the season began. That policy calls for a lighter punishment than the one Rice is now receiving, which raises questions about how Goodell and the NFL might handle the cases of two other players who have been arrested on domestic violence charges this year. Here are details of the cases involving each of those players — Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy and San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Ray McDonald — and where each case stands now:
Greg Hardy, Carolina Panthers defensive end: Hardy was arrested on May 13 on two charges of assault on a woman and communicating threats, both misdemeanors to which he pleaded not guilty. In a motion seeking a protective order, Hardy’s girlfriend accused him of picking her up and throwing her to the floor in a bathroom before taking her into a bedroom and throwing her onto a couch covered in guns, including assault weapons and shotguns. Hardy, according to a motion for a protective order, “bragged that all of those assault rifles were loaded.” The woman testified that at one point in the attack, amid Hardy’s threats that he would kill her, she “accepted I was going to die.”
Hardy’s attorneys argued that he had been attacked and called police in order to get the woman to leave his apartment. In July, a judge found him guilty on both counts and handed him a 60-day suspended sentence and 18 months probation. Hardy’s sentence is currently on hold while he appeals for a jury trial.
The Panthers said after the conviction that they would “respect the legal process,” and the NFL plans to let the appeals process play out before announcing any discipline. In the meantime, Hardy is playing: he logged four tackles and a sack in the season opening win against Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Ray McDonald, San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle: McDonald was arrested on felony suspicion of domestic abuse on Sept. 1, making him the first player arrested on domestic violence charges after the NFL announced the new policy. McDonald was “involved in an altercation” with his 10 weeks-pregnant fiancee during a birthday party at his home, according to the Sacramento Bee, and was arrested after police found bruises on her arms. McDonald has said that the “truth will come out” about the incident.
After saying that he would not keep a player involved in domestic violence on his team, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said last week that McDonald had “the liberty to play” Sunday. McDonald tallied three tackles in San Francisco’s win over Dallas.
The NFL has said only that it is “looking into” McDonald’s case, and 49ers CEO Jed York reiterated that the team won’t discipline McDonald yet. “I will not punish somebody until we see evidence something should be done or until an entire police investigation shows us something,” York told a Bay Area radio station Tuesday morning. He later added: “Ray McDonald is not Ray Rice.”
Hardy and McDonald’s cases have received considerably less attention than Rice’s did even in its earliest stages (perhaps because Rice is a bigger name and because there was video of Rice dragging his fiancee out of the elevator published shortly after), but how and if the NFL acts on them is significant. After admitting that he made a mistake in his original punishment of Rice, Goodell announced the new domestic violence policy that included supposedly tougher disciplinary standards: a six-game punishment for the first offense, an indefinite suspension for the second.
Those “standards” were seen widely (including here) as a public relations ploy, given that Goodell already had the authority to level such suspensions, and his move this week to suspend Rice indefinitely only added evidence that the policy will work only how Goodell wants it to. Though this was Rice’s first offense, the commissioner used “mitigating factors” to bypass the six-game suspension and went straight to an indefinite ban instead, which doesn’t exactly lend any credence or clarity to an already-vague standard. Instead, it sends the message that suspensions could depend largely on how bad the public perception of each individual case is.
That could affect Hardy and McDonald’s cases if they reach the stage where they merit NFL discipline (whatever stage that might be). McDonald’s case is still unfolding and Hardy isn’t expected back in court until after the NFL season, so neither will have immediate resolutions. And with a clear policy still not in place, it’s impossible to know how Goodell and his league might handle them.