Earlier this year, we took a look at the oddly mild two-game suspension given to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for domestic violence, while at the same time the NFL handed out much longer suspensions for substance abuse and PEDs. One player got threatened with an indefinite suspension just for tweeting derogatory comments about Michael Sam during the draft, but Rice just got two weeks off with no pay for what he and his now-wife described as a mutually violent episode. At the time, the only video publicly available showed the aftermath, with Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of the elevator. TMZ has now published the video from the elevator camera — video that Roger Goodell’s office saw before handing down the much-criticized punishment (via Jesse Taylor):
There doesn’t seem to be much “mutual” violence in this video. It looks like an argument broke out and Rice punched his then-girlfriend twice, contradicting public statements from both. Rice punches her almost immediately after getting into the elevator, and when she comes toward him, he decks her with a roundhouse punch. Rice stands over her for a little bit, and then drags her out with little attention to her condition, finally sitting her up when someone else comes into the frame. Fox News’ affiliate in Philadelphia reports that the NFL saw all of this before deciding to give Rice half of what it gives to players who violate the restricted-drug rules:
The NFL suspended Rice for two games during the season, including Sunday’s opening day loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The pair married on March 28, one day after a grand jury indicted Rice on an aggravated assault charge. But the suspension, considerably shorter than other penalties doled out by the league for such transgressions as smoking marijuana, drew sharp criticism from advocates for victims of domestic abuse.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has since announced harsher penalties for domestic abuse, telling league owners in a letter last month that he “didn’t get it right” in Rice’s case.
The new video shows the pair in the elevators engaged in an apparent argument. When Palmer steps forward toward Rice after his first punch, he drops her with a brutal roundhouse. An employee of the hotel, which has since closed, told the website the NFL saw the elevator footage before meting out the suspension.
Goodell acknowledged that he didn’t get it right with Rice, but this puts that mea culpa into a whole new light:
When the NFL announced its new domestic violence policy on Thursday, it did so in the form of a letter written by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
In the letter, which you can read in its entirety below. Goodell acknowledges that he got the Ray Rice punishment wrong.
“I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right,” Goodell wrote. “Simply put, we have to do better.”
The commissioner also outlined the new domestic abuse policy, which includes a six-game suspension for a first-time offender and a lifetime ban for a second-time offender.
USA Today also notes that this calls into question Goodell’s original decision and his sudden desire to ramp up the response:
Before Goodell announced the suspension, I wrote that the NFL has a serious issues with its priorities:
Defensive players usually have to commit multiple helmet-to-helmet attacks on defenseless opponents to even get a time-limited suspension from the league, and those plays can end careers and leave life-long damage. Meanwhile, trash talking during the game has practically become de rigueur for the NFL. [T]aunting celebrations from the School For Talentless Mimes now follow even the most routine tackles. Players spit at each other, and as my friend Jazz Shaw pointed out, a few players in the league mocked Tim Tebow for his Christianity with fake prayer-kneeling on the field.
In other words, the players in this league spend more time taunting each other than in actually playing the game. Yet the Dolphins and presumably the NFL see fit to send Jones to the re-education gulag over an ill-considered tweet far off the field, one that was not even explicitly directed at Sam.
Fox Sports’ Clay Travis noted that the league is strangely inconsistent when it comes to off-field behavior, too. In February of this year, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was charged with beating his fiancée into unconsciousness in an Atlantic City casino. A grand jury handed down an indictment for third-degree aggravated assault, perhaps convinced by video footage of Rice dragging her out of an elevator, with no one else in sight. Rice has since asked for a pretrial “intervention” to avoid a conviction and a potential three-year sentence, expressing through his attorney that “he’s ashamed of his conduct and he’s sorry for what he did.”
And yet, as Travis notes, the Ravens and the NFL have yet to do anything to Rice — even though the league has spent the last few years marketing heavily to increase its audience among women. “You get in more trouble for a Tweet about men kissing on a sports television show,” Travis writes, “than you do for allegedly knocking out your girlfriend and being charged with domestic assault? The message is clear: Words matter more than actions.”
The NFL can choose to go in one of two directions. Either they only issue punishments for activities directly related to the game, or they start getting serious about violent episodes from players. Owner Jim Irsay got a six-game suspension for a DUI to start this season, for instance, while Rice only got two games off for what the NFL saw in this video. Either direction is intellectually supportable, and in fact the first position may be more supportable than the latter. What the NFL’s doing right now, though, is just embarrassing.
Update: The embarrassment isn’t limited to just the league office, either. The Ravens still have this tweet up from May:
From May: RT @Ravens: Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.
— Lachlan Markay (@lachlan) September 8, 2014
Brian Faughnan wonders what the Ravens expected from Janay:
— Brian Faughnan (@BrianFaughnan) September 8, 2014
David Frum wonders:
If it’s a “mistake” to punch your fiancé in the face and knock her out cold, what’s the word for using the wrong zip code?
— David Frum (@davidfrum) September 8, 2014
There have been lots of “mistakes” made in this case.
Update: The NFL denies seeing this video before now:
In a statement on Monday morning, several hours after the new video was released, the NFL commissioner’s office said: “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”
CBSSports.com’s Jason La Canfora tweeted that while the Baltimore Ravens had not seen the video, Ray Rice had detailed what was shown in it previously, and he didn’t “sugarcoat” its content.
Will the NFL revisit the punishment with this new development? That may be difficult to do, with the players’ union likely to fight any second bites at the apple, but they may be able to make a case that they were misled into thinking this was a mutually-violent incident.