TIME Opinion

The NFL Needs to Take Domestic Violence Seriously

Ray Rice Press Conference
Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens pauses while addressing a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rob Carr—Getty Images

Ray Rice's slap-on-the-wrist suspension shows the league doesn't respect women

On Thursday, the NFL issued a two-game suspension to Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, who this spring was indicted for allegedly hitting his now-wife so hard that he knocked her unconscious. Rice was caught by a security camera dragging his unconscious then-fiancee out of an elevator in an Atlantic City Casino after the supposed incident. The video went viral, thanks to TMZ. It is truly disturbing: at one point the elevator keeps closing on the motionless fiancee’s feet. Considering his actions, Rice’s light punishment is a joke.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended players for longer because of DUIs, smoking pot and illegal tattoos. Fourteen other NFL players have been suspended in 2014, all for drug use—performance-enhancing or otherwise. Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is currently appealing a one-year suspension for marijuana use. Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis will sit out four games for taking illegal fertility drugs in hopes of getting his wife pregnant, according to Mathis. Again, Rice will sit for just two games.

As fans, we can’t speculate on details of the altercation: Ray and Janay Rice have tied the knot since the incident, and he has publicly apologized for using violence. But what we do know is this: there’s a tape of Ray Rice dragging an unconscious woman out of an elevator; he was charged with third-degree aggravated assault; a grand jury indicted him; a trial never took place, and he has agreed to enter counseling.

We also know that the NFL has a long history of players accused of committing domestic violence. According statistics from U-T San Diego, 21 of 32 NFL teams employed a player with a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record last year. Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington and Minnesota Vikings cornerback A.J. Jefferson have all recently been arrested for assault in domestic disputes.

Excusing these players’ actions sends the message that the country’s number one sports league doesn’t care about women (unless they’re attending games or buying merchandise). And it perpetuates the idea that these actions are okay when already 25% of women will be the victim of domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

And such a light sentence opens the door to victim blaming. After the video leaked, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome speculated that perhaps a “different story” would come out, implying that maybe Janay Rice did something to deserve being hit. (To clarify, no victim of domestic violence, male or female, ever deserves to be hit.) Janay Rice fueled the fire herself in a news conference in May by saying, “I do deeply regret the role I played in the incident that night.” Some may rationalize the light punishment by pointing to Janay’s forgiving Rice and Rice’s one-on-one meeting with Goodell. That’s not the message the NFL should be sending.

The NFL’s actions have disturbed fans and players alike. Former player Scott Fujita tweeted:

Goodell promised in 2012 that the NFL would take a stand on domestic violence arrests. And two years later, Goodell is doling out two game suspensions. Get serious, NFL.

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