Five members of Maryland's congressional delegation said for the first time Friday they believe the punishment handed down to Ravens running back Ray Rice by the NFL is insufficient, adding to a growing chorus of elected officials who are raising questions about league commisioner Roger Goodell's decision.
"Domestic violence carries a stigma, and the little to no punishment many abusers receive only strengthens that stigma and further endangers victims," said Baltimore Rep. Elijah E. Cummings. "I firmly believe the NFL should extend the two-week suspension of Ray Rice."
The lawmakers were responding to questions posed by The Sun about letters condemning the suspension, handed down last week, as too lenient. The letters were sent Thursday to the Ravens and the league by three U.S. senators. In addition to Cummings, Reps. John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen, John Delaney and Steny Hoyer –- the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House -- all questioned the punishment.
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin called for a tougher response on Thursday.
"Domestic violence is a very serious and persistent problem in our society," Sarbanes, of Baltimore County, said in a statement. "Seen through that lens, it is hard to justify a two-game suspension as being a sufficient penalty for the conduct that occurred."
Goodell, who was in Canton, Ohio, Friday for Pro Football Hall of Fame weekend, told reporters the league's decision on Rice was consistent with previous punishments for domestic violence incidents.
Rice was charged with felony aggravated assault after he allegedly struck his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, who is now his wife, and knocked her unconscious during a physical altercation in the elevator of an Atlantic City, N.J., casino in February. Rice ultimately entered a diversionary program and avoided jail time.
Hoyer, of Southern Maryland, and Van Hollen described Rice's punishment as "inadequate," and Delaney said it is "too lenient and sends an incredibly unfortunate message." Van Hollen and Delaney both live in Montgomery County.
It's not unusual for members of Congress to weigh in on such matters. Fifty senators wrote a letter in May to Goodell urging Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder to change the team's name over concerns it is offensive to Native Americans.
Mikulski and Cardin both signed that letter, along with Democratic heavyweights such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada.
For now, there does not appear any appetite for another letter on the Rice situation, nor is Congress likely to take any official action, such as with a hearing. But the public statements do add political pressure by keeping the incident in the news.
"The NFL should make clear that the consequences of domestic violence are severe by enforcing appropriately harsh punishments for any player found guilty of committing it," Van Hollen said.