The topic of disciplinary priorities in the NFL came up two months ago, when the league imposed an indefinite suspension and re-education requirements on Miami Dolphins DB Don Jones for a tweet about Michael Sam during the draft. In a column I wrote for The Week, I compared the NFL’s treatment of Jones to the lack of response in regard to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, who had assaulted his wife in an elevator and rendered her unconscious. The league responded to similar criticism at the time that it was waiting for the legal system to run its course on the crime before disciplining Rice.
After a plea deal that will allow Rice to clear his criminal record, the NFL finally took action … with a two-game suspension:
The NFL is suspending Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice two games under the personal conduct policy for an altercation that left his then-fiancee (now wife) unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator, a person with knowledge of the suspension told USA TODAY Sports on Thursday. …
“As you acknowledged during our meeting, your conduct was unquestionably inconsistent with league polices and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL,” Goodell wrote in a letter to Rice after the NFL confirmed the suspension Thursday afternoon. “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game. This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women.
“You will be expected to continue to take advantage of the counseling and other professional services you identified during our meeting. As you noted, this additional assistance has been of significant benefit to you and your wife, and it should remain a part of your practice as appropriate.
“I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career. I am now focused on your actions and expect you to demonstrate by those actions that you are prepared to fulfill those expectations.”
As Cam Edwards pointed out on Twitter, then-Giants receiver Plaxico Burress got a four-game suspension for illegally carrying a firearm, and that was prior to Burress’ trial — and the only one Burress hurt was himself:
Ray Rice suspended 2 games for beating his wife. Plaxico Burress got a longer suspension for shooting himself. http://t.co/gt97QvMqcP
— CamEdwards (@CamEdwards) July 24, 2014
— CamEdwards (@CamEdwards) July 24, 2014
Contrast that again with the crime and punishment in Don Jones’ case. When openly-gay prospect Michael Sam got drafted by the St. Louis Rams in the seventh round, Jones classlessly tweeted out “OMG” and “horrible.” For that, Jones got the aforementioned indefinite suspension, which threatened to stretch into perpetuity unless Jones recanted and submitted to behavioral modification. Jones got reinstated eight days later, but only after completing his “sensitivity training” (“educational training,” according to the Miami Dolphins) and paying an undisclosed fine, lest he assault anyone’s sensitivities with obnoxious tweets in the future.
The comparison between the three cases here — Jones, Rice, and Burress — shows a complete lack of perspective and proportionality in the NFL’s head offices. Jones didn’t break any laws, and yet at least theoretically faced the end of his career had he not backed down and submitted to counseling before any reinstatement. Burress broke the law but hadn’t been tried yet (and only hurt himself), and yet drew a four-game suspension before the case went to court, and even before he’d been indicted. Rice assaulted his wife to the point of unconsciousness, and yet only drew a fixed two-game suspension, with no requirement to complete his therapy as a prerequisite for his return.
It’s an absurd outcome. The NFL seems more concerned about mean tweets than domestic assault, and has only situational respect for due process. Either the NFL should entirely ignore what happens off the field when it comes to disciplinary matters, or get a much better grip on its priorities.