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NFL missed opportunity to send a message with Ray Rice suspension

Pro FootballFootballBaltimore RavensJohn HarbaughNFLCincinnati BengalsRoger Goodell

There appeared to be a sense of relief at The Castle after the NFL announced Ravens running back Ray Rice would be suspended only two games stemming from an altercation with his then-fiancee in a New Jersey casino in February.

But NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent the wrong message, especially when it comes to a very serious allegation of domestic abuse.

The suspension was for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Rice will also forfeit a third game check, for a total fine of about $529,000.

That's it.

A player who fails his drug test for the second time can get suspended for four games and a player who delivers a big hit on the field might get one, but Rice only got two.

After practice Thursday, team president Dick Cass spoke with Rice off to the side and owner Steve Bisciotti approached him from the back before giving him a hug.

As far as the Ravens are concerned, it is now time for them and Rice to move on. But what about the next alleged victim of domestic violence? What about someone else's daughter?

"We said from the beginning that the circumstances would determine the consequences," said coach John Harbaugh after practice. "There are consequences when you make a mistake like that. I stand behind Ray. He's a heck of a guy."

"He's done everything right since," said Harbaugh. "He makes a mistake. He's going to have to pay a consequence. It's good for kids to understand that it works that way. That's how it works, that's how it should be."

This is not how it really works, and it's not a good lesson for kids. Men shouldn't be allowed to physically abuse women and then get a slap on the wrist. Never.

A lot of people around this country saw Rice on video drag his fiancee from a casino elevator as she lay motionless on the floor.

Goodell had the opportunity to deliver a strong anti-abuse message but whiffed. One message seems constant: Star players live in a vacuum where there is very little justice.

Rice's suspension is on par for other first-time offenders who have been involved in domestic abuse cases, but the league needs to take a stronger stand.

Plus, a harder punishment for Rice is what this team needed. The Ravens have had five players arrested this offseason and there have been no serious consequences.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said he thought the commissioner's decision was fair. That was to be expected.

It is only "fair" because it worked out well for the Ravens. Rice will not play in the first two games, against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, which means he will miss only 13 days. That's not even long enough for him to get out of shape.

The Ravens have ample replacements in Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett, who took repetitions with the first team during several offseason minicamps. The Ravens will be able to get them plenty of more practice time before the opener against the Bengals on Sept. 7.

"We'll move forward and the next guy will have to step up, and Ray will be back when the time comes," Harbaugh said.

But again, what about the next victim of domestic violence?

Rice will come back and he will play well because good players often respond positively to challenges. According to the Ravens, Rice has done everything to help himself and has a great relationship with Janay, who is now his wife.

Before the February incident, Rice never got into trouble and was a leader in the Baltimore community. I've never been concerned about him. He has enough money to buy outstanding lawyers and the Ravens will provide him with strong support.

But a stiffer punishment might make the next player have second thoughts about domestic abuse. They might not now.

Rice got off easy and the Ravens won. The league sent out the wrong message, one the NFL can't seem to get right.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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Pro FootballFootballBaltimore RavensJohn HarbaughNFLCincinnati BengalsRoger Goodell
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