Sep 10, 2014

Ray Rice’s NFL assault case highlights American sport’s shameful record on domestic violence

Ray Rice’s NFL assault case highlights American sport’s shameful record on domestic violence. EARLIER today, the US was rocked by footage showing NFL star Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee, now-wife Janay Palmer in an elevator.

Rice’s team, the Baltimore Ravens, sacked him. The NFL itself suspended him indefinitely. He will probably never play again.

Good. That punishment is long overdue, because over in the land of the free, sport stars have long been free to behave like ruthless thugs without any serious consequences.

This issue is bigger than football. Everyone from Seth Rogen to President Barack Obama has an opinion on Price’s case.

“Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that’s true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye or, far too often, behind closed doors,” Obama said today, through his press secretary Josh Earnest.

“I don’t know much about football, but I know that Ray Rice is a piece of garbage who shouldn’t be allowed to play it professionally anymore,” Rogen said.

Even before TMZ released the footage from inside that elevator overnight, we knew what had happened. A separate clip, which emerged soon after the assault in February, showed Rice struggling to drag Palmer’s unconscious body out of the lift. Back then, the NFL suspended him for two games.

“Two games. It’s a joke, and a bad one,” ESPN’sJane McManus wrote at the time.

“Commissioner Roger Goodell has issued longer suspensions for pot smoking, taking Adderall, DUI, illegal tattoos, dogfighting and eating a protein bar thought to be on the NFL’s approved list.

“The NFL is sending a strong message by issuing such a weak suspension; it’s about as meaningful as a yellow card in a soccer game.”

Rice’s wife and victim, Janay Palmer.

This is not an isolated case. In July, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting a woman and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. The NFL hasn’t punished him at all. In May, Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington pushed over the mother of his child and broke her collarbone. He has received a one-year ban for smoking marijuana — no word yet on any penalty for the assault.

FiveThirtyEight’sAllison McCann has analysed every domestic violence incident involving an NFL player since 2002. Across 15 different cases, the average suspension handed down by the NFL is 1.5 games. That’s easily lower than the average suspension for substance abuse.

This isn’t just a problem for the NFL, because America’s other favourite sport, baseball, has an equally shocking record.

In 2006, Philadelphia pitcher Brett Myers punched his wife in the face and escaped without any punishment from the MLB. Tampa Bay star Josh Lueke, who was charged with rape in 2008 (and eventually pleaded guilty to a lesser charge), was never disciplined either. In 2003, Julio Lugo slammed his wife’s head into a car — he kept playing for another eight years.

The hall of shame goes back further. Pedro Astacio was allowed to play the opening game of the 2000 season, even though he’d admitted to hitting his pregnant wife. That echoed a case from 1992, in which Dante Bichette struck his pregnant 19-year-old girlfriend. There were no consequences for him either, and the incident wasn’t even revealed to the public until it was mentioned in a Sports Illustrated story three years later.

According to SBNation, the MLB hasn’t punished any player for domestic violence in at least 25 years.

Dante Bichette was never punished for hitting his pregnant girlfriend.

Last month, at last, the NFL beefed up its penalties for violence against women. Commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to the owners of every team, saying any player’s first assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault offence would result in a suspension of six games. From now on, players will be banned from the league after their second offence.

“At times ... we fall short of our goals,” Goodell wrote. “We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence (the Rice case).

“My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families.

“I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
Those measures may still be too weak, but they’re an undeniable improvement over the system that saw Ray Rice suspended, at least initially, for just two matches. Now baseball needs to follow suit. Even if it does, years will pass before American sport’s shameful record of indifference towards domestic violence can be forgiven.