A lot of attention has been paid lately to the long-term damage
That all changed this week when TMZ published a video of
Not to the NFL, apparently. Among other missteps, the Ravens posted the following statement on Twitter on May 22: "Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident."
Worse, Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, in an effort to support his player, said: "It's no big deal. I stand behind Ray. He's a heck of a guy."
It was only after Rice was sentenced to probation and ordered to enter a pretrial treatment program for first-time offenders that the commissioner suspended him, and then only for two games. Given that the NFL suspends players caught with pot for four games, the two-game penalty seemed pathetic.
In August, Goodell publicly apologized for the way he had handled the matter, and he unveiled a new policy that calls for an automatic six-game suspension for "a first-time violation … regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involves physical force." A second offense would result in a lifetime ban from the NFL.
It's a nice gesture. But it appears hollow. Days after Goodell made the announcement,
So this nagging truth remains: It should not take a graphic video to get the NFL to do the right thing. For too long the NFL has had an antiquated playbook when it comes to players who commit domestic violence.
I first encountered this in 1997 while conducting research for the book "Pros & Cons: The Criminals Who Play in the NFL." For the book, we analyzed 264 criminal complaints filed against NFL players on rosters during the 1997 season, and found that 47 of them involved alleged domestic violence. NFL players were charged with domestic violence more often than with any other crime. Yet time and again, the NFL took no action, and if players were cut by one team after being arrested, they were often quickly picked up by another.
And some of these cases involved allegations of chronic spousal abuse and violence far more graphic than what was captured in the Ray Rice video. Here are just two examples:
A top player on the Miami Dolphins allegedly choked and beat his pregnant fiancee in the shower. Months later, shortly after the baby was born, the player was accused of severely beating his wife again. Yet even after he pleaded guilty to lesser charges as part of a deal and served jail time, the league did not sanction him.
A member of the
The NFL was well aware of these two cases and scores more like them. But back then, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello infamously told the Washington Post: "We're not the criminal justice system. We can't cure every ill in society. You know, we're putting on football games. And unless it impacts the business, we have to be very careful about the disciplinary action we take. A player has rights too."
The NFL likes to point out that its players do not commit acts of violence against women at a higher rate than males in the general population. That's true. It's also irrelevant.
The bottom line is that NFL players aren't like men in the general population, especially in the eyes of children. Rather, NFL players are seen as action heroes who epitomize strength, athleticism and toughness. That's why so many kids emulate them.
And that's why one instance of a celebrated player using his muscle to harm a woman is too many.
The sad fact is that the most memorable hit of the 2014 NFL season will end up being one in which a player knocked out a woman in an elevator. Meantime, the NFL continues to pay lip service to how seriously it takes domestic violence.
This last week,
The NFL is in dire need of male leadership when it comes to violence against women. In the wake of the Rice video's release, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti sent a letter to stakeholders that outlined mistakes, apologized and promised a better response in the future. "We can help put more of a spotlight on intimate partner violence," he wrote, "while increasing education and awareness to this issue to all in our organization."
The best weapon the NFL has against domestic violence is its legions of past and current players who are model husbands and fathers. They are the silent majority. Those men have the power to change the culture. The league just needs to give them a platform.
Jeff Benedict is a special features writer for Sports Illustrated and the author of "The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football."