Ray Rice’s scandal highlights the NFL’s overly lax punishments


Pranav Parthasarathy

On Feb. 15, Ray Rice was arrested and charged with assault after an altercation with his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in a New Jersey Casino. On Sept. 8, TMZ posted a video of Rice dragging Palmer’s body out of an elevator after allegedly knocking her out. At the time, the Baltimore Ravens issued a statement calling Rice’s domestic violence a “serious matter,” and, following a grand jury indictment on Mar. 27, the NFL suspended Rice for two games.

Yes, two games.

The severity of the punishment — or lack thereof — was so embarrassing to the league that it was viewed as a mistake.

“We didn’t get it right,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said at a press conference announcing longer suspension lengths for future domestic violence incidents.

And they definitely didn’t get it right. On Sep. 8, TMZ released additional footage from an elevator camera showing Rice punching Palmer. The NFL, having no other choice, indefinitely suspended the running back, and the Baltimore Ravens terminated his $35 million contract. What we have here is yet another example of the NFL’s overly-lenient treatment of inappropriate behavior, with other examples including the reinstatement of Tennessee Titan’s cornerback Adam Jones, a man who faced felony charges in two states, and the Bengal’s re-signing of Chris Henry, a man who was arrested four times in a fourteen-month span.

Thanks to the recent Ray Rice scandal the NFL’s brand perception has suffered according to a YouGov poll, with a 27 percent increase in disapproval in the week following the scandal.

While the media has meted out its share of justice in this instance, the general public does not have the NFL commissioner or TMZ videos to make its cases heard. Additionally, there may be students on campus who have been bullied for various reasons, perhaps linked to their age or their sexual orientation, and refuse to share their experiences due to the danger of backlash.


We can take a step to address these issues by focusing on the elements of society which encourage this culture of abuse. Look at where the media attention lies for instance – while the NFL’s recent scandal has been extensively covered, far more attention has been directed toward gay player Michael Sam’s involvement with the league than toward the heinous offenses committed by other NFL players like Ben Roethlisberger, who sexually assaulted various women.

With the NFL’s cultural influence, however, comes incredible responsibility. If the league refuses to mete out adequate punishments for domestic abuse, what does that tell abusers? That minor punishments — such as a two-game suspension — are the consequence for severe beating and abuse? That as long as you are “valuable” to society, or that your disciplinary methods create value, they are completely valid? A slap is a slap, a punch is a punch, and abusers deserve far more than a two-game suspension.