Gridiron football running shy of tackling domestic violence

Ray Rice is the latest in a sorry line of players unable to control a runaway temper

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens addresses a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training centre in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rice was involved in an incident with Janay at an Atlantic City casino. Photograph:  Rob Carr/Getty Images

Running back Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens addresses a news conference with his wife Janay at the Ravens training centre in Owings Mills, Maryland. Rice was involved in an incident with Janay at an Atlantic City casino. Photograph: Rob Carr/Getty Images

Thu, Jul 31, 2014, 12:00

On the security cam, the Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice can be seen dragging his unconscious fiancéee Janay Palmer from an elevator at Revel Casino in Atlantic City. Her limp body appears almost lifeless and a man whose day job involves getting pounded by 20 stone behemoths is struggling to wrangle her legs out through the open doors.

Shortly after that footage was captured, Rice and a resuscitated Palmer were in a New Jersey police station, both facing assault charges. An evening that began with an engaged couple heading out on a date to celebrate St Valentine’s Day culminated in an incident that, almost six months later, continues to reverberate through American sport.

Last Thursday, the NFL suspended Rice for the first two games of the forthcoming season and fined him half a million dollars for his part in the fracas that left Palmer unconscious. Essentially, the scale of punishment demonstrated that the league’s disciplinary structure judges popping Adderall (the attention-deficit disorder drug that improves focus) before a game or smoking marijuana after it (many players argue this helps with the aches and pains) to be more egregious crimes than knocking a woman clean out. A strange kind of justice indeed that regards hitting a bong as deserving a lengthier ban than hitting a girlfriend.

If the ensuing public outcry was predictable, the NFL’s reaction was less so. It doesn’t seem to understand what all the fuss is about, believing Rice has been severely punished. One league official went on radio and declared the ruling sent other players the right message.

This type of myopia may explain why when the new season kicks off on September 4th,

about two-thirds of the teams vying to get to Super Bowl XLIX will contain individuals with domestic violence charges on their rap sheets. And they wonder why critics say NFL stands for National Felons League and one Californian newspaper even keeps a handy online database of player arrests.

In this particular instance, a lot of the anger towards the league and Rice stems from the fact so much of what has happened since the original incident has been alarming. On March 27th, a grand jury considered the evidence, dropped the charges against Palmer, and upgraded the case against Rice to aggravated assault, a more serious offence punishable by up to five years in jail. The very next day, the couple got married, bringing forward a scheduled summer ceremony by several months.

“How bad could the guy be if she went ahead and married him?” asked notorious right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh the other day. “NFL, big bucks, fame, maybe worth a hit to the jaw?”

A few weeks after the nuptials, by which time Palmer had told prosecutors she no longer wanted the case to proceed, Rice pled no contest to a single charge of aggravated assault. This enabled him to avoid jail time by enrolling in a pre-trial intervention programme for first-time offenders that includes a period of probation and anger management classes.

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