According to numerous reports, Ray Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back, has been suspended for the first two games of the 2014 NFL season. This follows his offseason assault arrest after he knocked out his then-fiancée at an Atlantic City casino. The NFL's decision is fair, under the circumstances.
Allegedly, Rice struck his then-fiancée (now his wife) in February and then pleaded not guilty to a felony third degree aggravated assault. He avoided trial by being accepted into a pretrial intervention program which could lead to the charge coming off his record.
Mrs./Mr. Ray Rice
In addition to the suspension, Rice will be fined $58,000 and will be asked by the NFL to take counseling. According to ESPN, Rice can be subject to further discipline if he commits any more personal conduct violations. The suspension will also cost Rice more than $470,000 in base salary. Rice is paid $235,294 per week during the regular season.
The question obviously is whether this suspension is "fair?"
How do you judge that? Several ways are possible: Prior suspensions handed out by the NFL to determine a pattern and standard. Ray Rice's prior conduct. How the justice system handled the matter. Ray Rice's remorse and conduct after the incident.
If you review each of the factors that go into making a disciplinary decision such as the NFL made, it is difficult to make a simple conclusion that two games is unfair.
Many may point to the NFL's history of suspending players for 4 or more games for violations of the league's substance abuse policy to support the argument that Rice's suspension is too short. The NFL has a two-part substance abuse policy that in one part covers performance enhancing drugs and in the second part covers typical drugs that can be "abused" like marijuana. Is this a fair comparison? Even though since March 20, 2013, the NFL suspended 43 players for substance violations and only four of those suspension were for two games or less, prior suspensions under one policy - personal conduct - vs. another policy - substance abuse - can not and should not be compared. If the NFL or any employer only had one disciplinary policy within which the comparables could be examined, then such an argument may hold water.
What about Ray Rice's prior conduct? By all accounts, he has been a model citizen while in Baltimore and he and his wife (then-fiancée) have worked for a number of charities and fund-raising organizations that have helped the Baltimore community. Isn't that what people want and clamor for out of their local athletes and entertainers who have wealth and fame? Let's not be hypocrites here folks.
What did the court do?
Rice pleaded not guilty, well within his rights, and the court made a determination that he was eligible for one of its diversionary programs - almost universally available for first-time offenders. As a result, the justice system determined what it deemed to be a proper punishment - no jail time and Rice must successfully complete the program. As a result, according to the New Jersey court, Ray Rice is not a danger to society and should not be locked up. The NFL is not a court of law and the judicial branch of government has spoken.
Since the incident at the New Jersey casino, Rice has not been arrested, he and his fiancée have been married, and again, by all accounts, have conducted themselves as model citizens. The couple have been in counseling, they spoke eloquently at a press conference and appear to be past the problems that they had that night. These are their own words.
Am I naïve? Is there something deep within Ray Rice that makes him a bad guy and we will some day see his name on the front page of newspapers having done something horrible or worse to his wife? How would I know? No one does.
Rather than people beating their chests and screaming that the punishment doesn't fit the crime, we should really look at all the facts, look at the people involved, look at the decisions made by people who have all the information - the NFL, prosecutors and judges, the family - and reserve judgment. "Experts" are saying that a severe punishment of Ray Rice was a great opportunity for the NFL to make an example of Rice for the offense that he committed. They are missing the point - courts punish for criminal offenses. The NFL, like other employers, discipline their employees according to their own standards.
I just hope Ray Rice and his wife recognize how lucky they are.
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