Video footage of Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice dragging the unconscious body of his soon-to-be wife from an elevator in Atlantic City was shocking and upsetting. Equally disturbing was the National Football League’s weak response to this clear-cut case of domestic violence. So it was unexpected — and refreshing — to see NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell revisit the issue with an acknowledgment he had erred with the lenient punishment and the announcement of tougher penalties for domestic violence offenses.
“I didn’t get it right,” was Goodell’s forthright admission in a letter to team owners last week about the paltry two-game suspension handed out in July to Rice. He had been charged with aggravated assault but entered into an agreement in which he would participate in a diversionary program, including counseling and community service, instead of going to trial.
Having to sit out two games was inconsistent with harsher punishments that had been issued for other nonviolent offenses and it sent an insidious message about how seriously — not so much — the league viewed the problem of domestic violence. A furious outcry followed the suspension.
The fact that Goodell listened to and really heard the critics is to his credit. So, too, is the fact he is giving more than lip-service to the issue by instituting more serious punishment for those who commit domestic violence or sexual assault. Included is a provision that would banish second-time offenders from the league for at least a year and provide no assurance of their reentry.