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What Ray Rice's 2-Game Suspension For Assault Says About The NFL


Earlier this year, the Baltimore Ravens running back, Ray Rice, was caught on a surveillance video dragging his unconscious fiance - now his wife - out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. Police say he had beaten her senseless. The NFL decided the assault was worth a two-game suspension and a fine equal to three game checks. But that penalty is coming in for a lot of criticism. And now sports network ESPN has become part of the story. Joining us to talk about all this is Kavitha Davidson who writes about sports for Bloomberg View. Welcome to our program.

KAVITHA DAVIDSON: Thank you for having me.

WERTHEIMER: Ray Rice is not the only NFL player suspended recently. How does his suspension compare with other punishments handed down by the league, just in terms of the strictness of the punishment and the crime and how they fit?

DAVIDSON: Well, 14 other players have been suspended in the off-season other than Rice, and all of them have been for either performance-enhancing drugs or substance abuse. And not a single one of them has received fewer than a four-game suspension. The NFL could have come down much harder and really made a statement about what it feels the punishment for domestic violence should be compared to these other violations - was really a missed opportunity for the league.

WERTHEIMER: So how does the NFL explain why it did what it did?

DAVIDSON: Well, the NFL has minimum penalties for PED use and for substance abuse written into its agreement with the players union, but it has no such penalties set in stone for things like domestic violence - where again, what that means is that there was no ceiling on the kind of authority that the commissioner could've enacted here. It also explains, very unconvincingly, that it believes that because Rice won't be serving any jail time, this shows that the NFL is serious about disciple. This is the only disciple that Rice will be facing, which is a little bit disingenuous. You know, Rice will have to complete a diversionary program in order to avoid a trial - remember, he was actually charged with third-degree aggravated assault, which is a felony. So for the league to kind of come down and say the he's not facing any other discipline is simply untrue.

WERTHEIMER: Most recently, ESPN got wrapped up in all of this in the decision that the league made about Ray Rice's punishment. How'd that happen?

DAVIDSON: Well, Stephen A. Smith, who is an ESPN commentator known for being kind of a loudmouth, made some comments on Friday in which he condemned any kind of domestic violence while still urging women to do their part not to provoke the men in their lives. And it was his colleague at ESPN, Michelle Beadle, who really showed a lot of courage in standing up to him and tweeting her outrage at these comments.

WERTHEIMER: Is there any indication that the outcry about the NFL's decision could make the league revisit that decision?

DAVIDSON: You know, that would be the hope because the outcry has been so swift. Adolpho Birch is the most senior NFL official to have commented on this situation publicly to date. And yesterday, he gave an interview with ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike in which he basically doubled down in his belief that the discipline was enough, but unfortunately, the narrative has emerged that the NFL doesn't care about its female fans. But I would argue that, looking at how it's responded to the backlash, the NFL simply doesn't care about any of its fans, and it doesn't need to because, at the end of the day, you know, we may fling as much outrage as we want to on twitter but many of us will still suspend our indignation and tune in on Sundays.

WERTHEIMER: We've been speaking with Bloomberg View's sportswriter, Kavitha Davidson. Kavitha Davidson, Thank you very much.

DAVIDSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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