By George E. Curry
The NFL – which has been referred to as everything from the National Felons League to, in the cases of players, Not For Long – has imposed a lifetime ban on Ray Rice yet rarely disciplines other brazen offenders. And when a team takes the rare action of disciplining a player for striking a woman, it usually results in a tap on the wrist.
The National Football League initially imposed a two-game suspension of Rice after it was disclosed that he had abused his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J. casino hotel elevator. But after the celebrity website TMZ aired the full video showing Rice knocking out his future wife with a strong blow to the face, rendering her unconscious, the Baltimore Ravens voided Rice’s contract and the NFL banned him from pro football for life.
Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is in charge of protecting the nation’s most popular sport’s $10 billion in annual revenue, acknowledged that the NFL “got it wrong” when it imposed only a two-game suspension on Rice.
But what Goodell, who earns $44 million a year, didn’t admit was the NFL continues to get it wrong while serving as a high-profile enabler for other domestic abusers in the league. For example:
• Rice’s teammate, All-Pro Linebacker Terrell Suggs, continued playing after Candace Williams, the mother of his three children and his future wife, filed for two protective orders against him in the last five years. The first was in December 2009. The Baltimore Sun reported, “According to the complaint …Williams said Suggs threw a soap dispenser at her head, hit her in the chest with his hand, and held a bottle of bleach over her and their 1-year-old son, which spilled on them and caused a rash. Baltimore City District Court Judge Ronald Alan Karasic wrote that a laceration was visible on Williams’ chest.” Though the protective order was granted, Suggs was never charged with a crime. Three years later, Williams filed for another protective order, alleging that Suggs “punched her in the neck and drove a car containing their two children at a ‘high rate of speed’ while she was being dragged alongside.” The couple later married. In neither case did the Ravens or the NFL take any action against Suggs.
• Carolina Panthers All-Pro Defensive End Greg Hardy was convicted last summer of assaulting and threatening to kill his former girlfriend, Nicole Holder, but no action was taken against him until the Ray Rice story exploded on the national scene. In her request for a protective order, Holder said Hardy threw her into a tile tub, pulled her from the tub by her hair, choked her with both hands and picked her up over his head and threw her onto a couch filled with assault rifles and shotguns. At the trial, Holder testified, “He looked me in my eyes and told me he was going to kill me. I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, ‘Just do it. Kill me.’” Hardy was found guilty of misdemeanor charges and sentenced to a 60-day suspended sentence and 18 months of probation. He is appealing the verdict. Hardy was deactivated for last Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions.
• San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald was allowed to play in last Sunday’s game, despite being arrested and charged with felony domestic violence connected with allegedly striking his pregnant fiancée. A hearing scheduled for Monday was postponed, pending further investigation.
These are not isolated cases. A database maintained by USA Today shows that there have been 713 arrests of NFL players since 2000 – 85 for domestic violence. The database covers only incidents reported by the media.
Of the 56 known domestic violence cases that occurred on Goodell’s watch, players were suspended only a combined total 13 games, excluding Ray Rice. Typically, players involved in domestic disputes had charges dismissed after they were placed in a diversion program for first-time offenders, completed anger management counseling or performed community service. In many cases, the abused woman refused to file charges. Only 10 players were released by their team and three of those landed on other squads.
Overall, arrest rates among NFL players are lower than the national average for men in their age range. Among NFL teams, according to the New York Times, the Minnesota Vikings had the most players arrested since 2000, with 44, followed closely by the Cincinnati Bengals and the Denver Broncos. The Arizona Cardinals and the St. Louis Rams, with 11 each, tied for the lowest mark. Baltimore had 22 players arrested over that period, mirroring the league average.
Though the most common offense was driving while drunk, domestic violence has taken center stage.
The domestic cases are chronicled by Sidepin. The website stated, “Goodell is perceived as being tough on players. He’s an authoritarian, the likes of which the league has never seen!! But there’s one thing Goodell will tolerate, and that’s NFL players abusing women.”
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.