As Ray Rice was released from his contract by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL on Monday, national advocate groups for victims of domestic violence were mixed in their reactions to the measures taken by the team and league.
TMZ on Monday released a video showing Rice knocking his wife, Janay Palmer, unconscious inside an elevator at an Atlantic City casino in February. Rice was accepted into a pretrial diversionary program in May, and suspended two games by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in July. Goodell in August defended that discipline and said he had been “impressed” with how Rice had handled himself since the incident.
Chitra Panjabi, vice president of membership of the National Organization for Women, said she was pleased with the additional discipline but believes there are still questions needing answering about how the incident was handled initially.
“I don’t want to call this a win because I don’t see this as a win,” Panjabi said. “I see this as a small step in the right direction.”
While dissolving Rice’s contract, which had three years and $10 million remaining, and sidelining him for the foreseeable future send a strong message about domestic violence, Panjabi said, that the team and league took so long to do it speaks to the contrary.
“I’m disappointed that it took so long,” Panjabi said. “I’m disappointed that it took having to see a video for them to make this decision. The fact is, this happened in February in this year. It’s taken, what, six months for them to deal with this issue?
“This is not the first time that domestic violence has occurred in the league, and it shouldn’t be that when you have a media storm that a response should be made. This should be something that the league is working on all the time.”
Panjabi agreed with Goodell’s decision to revisit his initial discipline of Rice after the second video became public, but that it took nearly seven months and heavy scrutiny from media and fans raises serious questions about his fitness to serve as NFL commissioner.
Panjabi was also troubled by reports that Goodell and Ravens officials had seen the elevator tape before Goodell gave Rice his initial two-game ban. If true, she said, she would demand that Goodell step down from his post as NFL commissioner immediately.
“I think the fact that they’re doing this now is that there’s video, and that is a huge problem,” she said. “If it took him this long to actually act on the issue, if he saw the video back then, that to me is gross misconduct. He needs to take responsibility for his actions and he needs to step down, because I don’t think he’s the right person to show that the league takes domestic violence seriously.”
Ruth Glenn, interim executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she was encouraged by the steps taken by the NFL and Ravens on Monday and said she believes they can be a part of a real cultural shift among owners, executives, coaches and players on issues of violence against women.
“I prefer to see a positive out of this,” Glenn said. “Overall, I would say, there’s encouragement in what’s happened in the last two weeks.
“That’s probably not going to be a very popular position in our field. But we’ve been knocking on the door for a very long time.
“To finally be heard and have people understand the impact of this — it’s encouraging.”
While Glenn said she wished Goodell and the Ravens had done what they did on Monday sooner and without needing to see a video, she believes that it is sometimes difficult for people who haven’t seen domestic violence first-hand to truly comprehend it.
“For those of us in the field, we know what that is and we see it all the time and we know what women and families are going through,” Glenn said. “But for some organizations and some people, they have to see it to understand it. Unfortunately, it probably did take the video to get them to understand, to encourage them to take it to another level.”
Glenn said the incident, and how the NFL and Ravens initially mishandled it, offer a teachable moment that can result in a cultural change in league circles about domestic violence, similar to how the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito scandal last season, and Miami Dolphins fumbling of it at first, did with bullying in pro football locker rooms.
“Now they’re being forced to have this not happen again,” Glenn said. “How do you not have this happen again? You begin to change your practices, your values, your principles, your culture of violence against women.
“If there’s a silver lining in this, that’s it.”
Panjabi and Glenn said the NFL and teams need to do more to prevent future instances of domestic violence by players.
The league and players union need to create a concrete discipline schedule for domestic violence, Panjabi said, similar to those of the collectively-bargained substance abuse and performance-enhancing drug policies.
Guidelines from a memo to all 32 NFL teams two weeks ago, in which Goodell said he had the power to suspend perpetrators of domestic violence up to six games for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a second, were too vague and left too much room for interpretation, Panjabi said.
Punishment for violence against women, she said, also needs to reflect the seriousness of the issue relative to those of players using recreational drugs and performance enhancers.
“I think when penalties for performance enhancing drugs and recreational drugs are stricter and harsher than those for domestic violence, sexual assault, it’s disheartening that the league takes it that much more seriously than it does these issues,” Panjabi said.
As for Rice, Panjabi and Glenn agreed that he should not play in the NFL again.
“I don’t think he should, and I think that’s true of anyone who has domestic violence convictions held against him,” Panjabi said. “I think we need to talk about lifetime bans for players who commit egregious acts of violence, and I think it’s important for leagues to show individuals that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated.”
“Do I think he should ever be reinstated? No,” Glenn said.
“No. I think there should be a heavy toll for anyone who commits violence, particularly a man who commits this kind of violence against a woman.”
The Ravens are expected to hold a press conference at 8 p.m. ET on Monday with head coach John Harbaugh, GM Ozzie Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti.
“I want them to say that as an organization that they need to take domestic violence seriously and that they have a lot more to do as far as disciplining players and holding them accountable,” Panjabi said.
“It’s one thing to discipline and punish, it’s another to prevent these issues from happening altogether, really need to make a commitment to making sure that these things don’t continue to happen.”
Most important, Panjabi said, is that the NFL and Ravens take an active role in educating players on issues of domestic violence and partnering with advocacy organizations as a preventative.
“We need to see the league continue to do this, and they need to step up on their education and awareness from preventing these issues form happening in the first place,” she said.
“This is a first and necessary step for the league to show that it’s taking responsibility. There is much more to go beyond just the suspension side of things or releasing players from their contracts. They need to show everybody that they take issues of domestic violence seriously and that they’re going to prevent these issues from happening in the first place.
“I’m really hoping the league stpes up and it would be really good if they did.”
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