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U.S. senators call on NFL, Ravens to revise 'inadequate' punishment for Rice

Three U.S. Senators sent letters to the Baltimore Ravens and the National Football League on Thursday criticizing what they called "plainly inadequate" punishment for star running back Ray Rice.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin — all Democrats — implored the league and the Ravens to revisit their sanctions against Rice, who was charged with felony aggravated assault after police said he knocked his then-fiancee unconscious at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino in February.

The senators also called on the league to create a program to deal with domestic violence in a way similar to its treatment of drug offenses by players.

Rice was suspended for two games, which will cost him $529,000 in wages, a punishment that many critics have pointed out is less than some players have faced for marijuana possession.

"The decision to suspend Mr. Rice for a mere two games sends the inescapable message that the NFL does not take domestic or intimate-partner violence with the seriousness they deserve," the senators wrote.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Blumenthal called the punishment "a mockery of what should have been done."

Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said the team is "aware of the letter." NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said, "We look forward to responding" to it.

Maryland's senators, Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, also criticized the punishment late Thursday.

"I thought it was too light because I thought it was a very serious issue," Cardin said when asked to respond to the letter.  "I'm not the commissioner of the NFL, I'm not the owner of the Ravens. I can just tell you that I thought it was a very serious issue and that the penalty was very mild." 

Cardin and Blumenthal offered no opinion on what they thought would be an appropriate response.

Cardin said he did not know whether his office had been asked to join the letter. Those kinds of requests are often handled by aides.

Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congress, said the league should send a message with Rice's punishment.

"Domestic violence is unacceptable whether it's done by a celebrity or an unknown cad," Mikulski said in a statement. "The NFL must make clear this conduct will not be tolerated and not be so tepid."

Rice was accepted into a diversionary counseling program in May allowing him to avoid jail time and potentially get the assault charge expunged.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.

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