Ray Rice decision appears to prompt new NFL policy [Commentary]

The National Football League — the folks who first brought you the pink player jerseys — looks ready to codify punishment for players accused of beating women.

According to reports leaking out all over the place, the new policy would provide for suspensions of four to six games without pay for the first domestic abuse offense and possibly a season-long suspension for a second offense.

The decision was clearly made as a result of the withering criticism NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell received for suspending Baltimore Raven Ray Rice for only two games after the running back was accused of assaulting his then fiancee, now his wife, in the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel.

Ladies, this is what it feels like to be pandered to.

If you felt insulted that the league with $10 billion in revenue could only think to auction off a bunch of pink players gloves to generate a paltry $1 million contribution to breast cancer research, you ought to love this. The NFL is scrambling to get back in your good graces after appearing to care more about whether its players were smoking marijuana than whether they were punching out their girlfriends.

Forgive me if I am unimpressed. And not a little worried. The governing body for a professional sport has taken it upon itself to regulate further the off-field behavior of its employees in areas already governed by law. They say it is to protect the integrity of the sport, but it is more likely the action was taken to protect the monetizing of the brand.

But I am not convinced a single Ravens fan — male or female — gives a damn how Ray Rice treats his wife. What matters to them is that he is going to miss games against rivals Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Fans are more worried about whether he can rehabilitate his running game than about whether he can rehabilitate his attitude toward women.

I confess, it looked bad when the league punished Michael Vick more harshly for dog fighting than it did Mr. Rice for apparently cold-cocking his girlfriend. Vick, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback at the time, was suspended indefinitely.

But Mr. Vick also went to jail for 21 months, which is what our court system is supposed to be for: punishing illegal behavior.

The League with the Boarding House Reach has its own justice system in place, and it seeks to punish not only behavior that affects the play on the field but behavior not even found criminal under the law. Bullying in the locker room, for example. Behaving like a boor in a bar. Shooting yourself in the groin. Suspension, suspension, suspension.

The prosecution of Mr. Rice was halted pending his completion of a counseling program. But his conviction in the court of Roger Goodell cost him half a million dollars. It apparently would have been more if he hadn't had such a good reputation and if his wife hadn't pleaded for leniency. Great. That's how we decide things in the NFL.

Now there will be something on paper, and Mr. Goodell's wildly discretionary judgment can be curtailed. There are punishments for swinging your helmet at another player, and now there is one for decking your woman. Fine. But I have absolutely no expectation that the new policy will prevent a single punch from being thrown. That's not how domestic violence works. And it's not going to neutralize the toxic mix of testosterone and entitlement in players.

The NFL has frightening reach, power and money for an entertainment enterprise. It has even inserted itself in youth football through USA Football to ensure generations of talent. In order to convince the mothers of all those players that it is thinking of them, too, it will put a policy in place to discourage domestic abuse.

Forgive me, but this looks for all the world like putting lipstick on a pigskin.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at sreimer@baltsun.com and @SusanReimer on Twitter.com.

To respond to this commentary, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad