Friday, September 12, 2014

Reconsidering the Release of Raven's RB Ray Rice

On February 15, 2014, Baltimore Ravens Running Back Ray Rice and his fiancée Janay Palmer  had gotten into a fight while in an elevator at the Revel Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The altercation was initially described as a minor physical altercation. Both Rice and Palmer were arrested on simple assault charges.

On February 19th, police obtained the security camera video from the Revel Casino, which showed that the 26 year old Running Back cold cocked Palmer and then dragged her out of the elevator.

When evidence was presented to a grand jury, Rice's was indicted with third degree aggravated assault.  The very next day, Rice and Palmer got married.  Although Rice rejected a plea deal on the charges, Rice plead not guilty and enrolled in a diversion program for first time offenders to receive counseling which could could legally clear him within six months.

Alas that was not the end of the issue for Ray Rice.  The NFL initially suspended Rice for two games, noting that the League and the Union did not have a policy on domestic violence.  There was a public hue and cry against what was considered to be a lenient punishment from the NFL.  After all, players caught using illegal narcotics or performance enhancing drugs could have stiffer punishment.

 NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claimed that he did not have all of the information about the event four months after the event.  This claim has come under scrutiny as the NFL had the police tape in Feburary.  Moreover, Rice insisted that he was upfront with the NFL over what occurred.

To placate the public NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted that the League "didn't get it right" with the Rice ruling. So the NFL beefed up its punishment for domestic violence, imposing a six game suspension without pay for a first offence and a virtual lifetime ban on the second instance.  Goodell said:

"I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values, I  didn't get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will."

The question is to how the infraction is determined and when it is imposed.  For instance, Rice was not CONVICTED by a jury of his peers or a court of domestic violence.  And his diversion program would wipe the legal slate clean. And what sort of appeal process is there for the league.  It also begs the question of whether an employer should impose sanctions on players for conduct outside of the workplace and on charges not substantiated by society.

On September 8th 2014, TMZ Sports released the full Ray Rice elevator assault video.

This prompted swift response.  The Baltimore Ravens unconditionally released their star running back.  Moreover, the NFL indefinitely suspended Ray Rice.

By chance, the first Thursday Night Football game on CBS featured the Baltimore Ravens versus the Pittsburg Steelers. CBS initially planned to use a promo which featured the song "Run This Town" with Jay-Z and Rihanna, the latter who suffered felony assault  at the hands of rapper Chris Brown in 2009. The network also pulled a comedy sketch between Don Cheadle and Rihanna.   Instead the CBS Sports pregame consisted of somber interview by CBS Morning Show host Nora O'Donnell which harped on domestic violence.

Much of the media seemed flummoxed when Ravens fans proudly wore their Ray Rice jerseys for the Thursday Night Football game. Such fans believed that it was a one time event, Rice apologized and had been punished once by the League.  Moreover, other players with domestic violence charges hanging over them, like Carolina Panthers Defensive End Greg Hardy was convicted of assault charges yet was able to play on Week 1 while the charge is on appeal.  But there probably was no videotape.  Rice was not legally convicted yet he has suffered the playing death penalty on what might be called double jeopardy in a legal context.

While domestic violence is reprehensible, there are already existing remedies to redress the offense.   The Ray Rice videotape seemed to skew the process and railroaded Rice while not equally applying punishment for similar offenses. The NFL has become notorious for political correctness. Based upon the controversy as to when Goodell saw the Rice videotape, the League may be hoisted on its own PC petard. 

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