The NFL is considering tougher penalties for players who commit acts of domestic violence as the league continues to deal with sharp backlash for its two-game suspension of Ravens running back Ray Rice.
The Washington Post, citing sources familiar with the discussions, said in a Wednesday report the suspensions could increase to four to six games for first offenders and a full season for repeat offenders, which would put them in line with the punishment for using performance-enhancing drugs. Many critics of the Rice suspension noted that he faced a lighter penalty than he would have for drug use and said this demonstrated the NFL's skewed priorities.
The possibility of harsher penalties drew praise from domestic violence advocates.
"I'm encouraged to hear that the NFL is considering tougher penalties for domestic violence cases," said Gretchen Tome, a former domestic violence counselor who collected 60,000 signatures for a petition urging the league to take a stronger stance. "People across the country are speaking out, and it seems that the NFL is listening and ready to take action. The penalties under discussion would be a huge step forward for the NFL."
Crisis managers also said the league would be wise to address the policy swiftly. The NFL needs to establish a moral code on domestic violence, said Jonathan Bernstein, president of the national crisis consultancy Bernstein Crisis Management.
"And any code that doesn't have teeth is meaningless," he said. "If they don't do something, they're saying this is not important."
Beyond simply considering harsher penalties, the league should reach out to women's groups and ask what response they want, Bernstein said.
"Don't just guess what's needed," he said.
Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said the Ravens had no comment on the Post report. Rice was not available for comment Thursday. An NFL spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and the league declined the Post's request to address the report.
Rice, currently practicing with the Ravens, was arrested in February and accused of striking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, at an Atlantic City casino. He subsequently married Palmer and was accepted into a pre-trial diversion program in New Jersey.
But Rice's public apologies did little to satisfy critics. He did not appeal his league punishment, which includes a fine of one additional game check, meaning Rice will lose $529,000 total in salary.
"We can't just make up the discipline," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said recently in explaining the suspension. "It has to be consistent with other cases, and it was in this matter."