NFL sends wrong message

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In February, a security camera in an Atlantic City casino filmed Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancé out of an elevator, leading to his arrest for simple assault. A New Jersey grand jury later indicted him on the more serious charge of aggravated assault. Rice, who had no prior arrests, was accepted into a diversion program allowing him to avoid jail time if he completes it without any other problems.

The National Football League has spoken, finally, on Rice's behavior. Last Thursday, the league announced that he will be suspended for the first two games of the 2014 football season and fined $58,000. Reactions to Rice's punishment were mixed. A few thought it was too harsh. Many more spoke out in anger that the punishment was too lenient, especially in light of suspensions the league had imposed on others for non-violent offenses such as using marijuana.


The NFL is yet to deal with several high-profile cases involving domestic abuse. Arizona linebacker Daryl Washington was convicted on two charges of aggravated assault for throwing his girlfriend to the ground and fracturing her collarbone. Washington was suspended for the entire 2014 season, but for violating the league's drug abuse policy, not for his conviction. Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was convicted for assault and for threatening to kill his girlfriend. Amazingly, Hardy will play football this season. The Panthers will not suspend him, pending the outcome of his appeal of the conviction, and it's not clear that the NFL will, either.

You would not be mistaken to reach the conclusion that by its very nature, pro football breeds violence. Couple that with the way gifted athletes are pampered, spoiled, sheltered and frequently not held accountable for their behavior, and it's a small wonder there aren't more instances of domestic violence among NFL players. The league is a sanctuary for men with history of abusive behavior. CNN reports that 21 of the 32 NFL franchises have at least one player with at least one charge of domestic and/or sexual violence on his resume.


The sad fact is that domestic violence is part of the country's fabric, costing billions of dollars and thousands of lives each year. The numbers numb the senses: one in four women will experience some form of domestic violence in her lifetime. Each year, 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by their intimate partners. Every 25 seconds, minute after minute, day after day, a woman is beaten or physically threatened by her intimate partner. About one third of all female murder victims died at the hands of an intimate partner. Last year, more than 35,000 court cases of domestic violence were reported in Maryland, about 16,000 of them being assaults against women; more than 4,000 cases of domestic violence against men were also reported. The actual number is probably much higher. Spousal or partner abuse is one of the most underreported crimes in the country.

As shocking as the statistics are, they don't come close to telling the full story. Children exposed to domestic violence of any kind are more likely to be emotionally disturbed, have school problems, or engage in domestic violence when they reach adulthood – if they reach adulthood. This sickness cuts across all strata of society, rich and poor, white, black or Hispanic.

The National Football League cannot avoid its position of influence in our society. When marijuana use earns a player a full year's suspension and violent behavior puts a player on the bench for 11 days, the time Rice will be out of uniform, we cannot escape the conclusion that the NFL has its priorities completely screwed up. Many young men aspire to careers in professional sports, and whether or not the NFL likes it, they model their behavior after the players they admire. What will those kids think when they see star players like Rice, Hardy or Washington receive light punishment for beating up women?

Some things are more important than money or winning a football game. Sending the right message is one of them.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at