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NFL changes abuse policy

Izabela Zaluska, Copy Editor

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Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely from the National Football League (NFL) after video footage released on Sep. 8 showing Rice punching his then girlfriend, now wife, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an Atlanta casino elevator. The video footage showed Rice actually striking Palmer whereas the same hotel surveillance video released a few months before only showed him pulling her unconscious body out of the elevator.

Prior to the most recent update, Rice was suspended for two games and had to pay a $58,000 fine. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell received a lot of backlash for this call. The criticisms were tied to how leniently the NFL treated Rice, yet they suspended Josh Gordon, a receiver on the Cleveland Browns, one year in July for failing a marijuana drug test. Recently, Gordon’s suspension was changed to 10 games but was still more than Rice’s initial suspension of two games.

Goodall later sent a letter to the NFL owners where he admitted to making the wrong decision and introduced the new policy for domestic violence and sexual assault. First-time violators of the new policy will be subject to a six game suspension, and a second violation will lead to a potential lifetime ban. However, Rice’s conduct was not retroactive; it wasn’t until after the release of the footage inside of the elevator that his punishment changed.

“The initial punishment of a two game suspension was loose for something so serious,” Peter Czyzewski ’15 said. “Kids that are fans of football will hear about what he did and think it was okay.”

It’s not uncommon for kids and teenagers to look up to athletes, celebrities and other prominent figures and view them as role models, especially now with the media having such a strong presence in our lives, Eric Crabtree-Nelson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, said. Their lives seem more interesting and at times people have a tendency to glamourize the life of a prominent figure since social media seems to give us a closer look into their lives, according to Crabtree-Nelson.

The media also gives us the opportunity to easily follow high-profile cases since information is so readily available; however, the details from the media don’t always tell the full story of what happened, so it’s hard to pass judgment, Bill McNamara, Varsity Football Coach, said.

“[The media] heightens our awareness and provides us with information that people who are following the case want to hear about,” attorney Jim Perry said. “The court process is slow which allows time for articles to be published that analyze and speculate the issue at hand but don’t exactly have all the evidence or facts.”

There has been plenty of speculation as to why legal action wasn’t taken against Rice and why he only got off with participating in a diversion program. After the video was released, the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office made a statement in which they supported the decision to not pursue jail time and said the treatment Rice received was not uncommon for a first-time domestic violence offender.

The punishments for domestic violence cases take a lot of other information into consideration such as prior offenses and past relationships with the victim, and the punishment ranges with those aspects kept in mind, Perry said. For a first offense, it’s possible to go through counseling, like Rice is, which would then take the domestic violence off his or her record.

Prior to the video, it seemed the consequences for Rice were going to stay the same, but once the video was released, it was hard to avoid the evidence and something had to be done, Czyzewski said.

“[The NFL] is making it clear that there will be consequences for inappropriate actions, and it’s unacceptable to act inappropriately, break the law and be dishonest,” McNamara said.

While the NFL is definitely sending a message regarding domestic violence to their players and the public, speculation has risen on whether or not the NFL had seen the elevator footage prior to Sep. 8. The NFL released a statement after the footage was released that it had no knowledge of the tape and was not aware of anyone in their office possessing or seeing the video before it was showed to the public.

A law enforcement official told the Associated Press otherwise. The official, who has been kept anonymous, said he sent the footage to a NFL executive in April. The official also had a voicemail from the executive, confirming the video had arrived.

After the official came forward, Goodell announced on Sep. 10 that former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director Robert S. Mueller III would lead a private investigation and look into how the NFL dealt with the Ray Rice evidence.

Whether or not the NFL saw the video, they are still taking a clear stance when it comes to the issue of domestic violence by changing their policies. The Rice issue has also prompted more talk about the issues of domestic violence.

“The Ray Rice issue has caused media and society to take a closer look at domestic violence,” Crabtree-Nelson said. “The release of the video was a tipping point on domestic violence and our society’s attitudes towards those who casually commit violence against their loved ones.”

The incident has resulted in more talk about domestic violence, especially on social media with the hashtags #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft becoming popular on Twitter. Through these hashtags, women who have been in abusive relationships have been opening up and sharing stories as to why they stayed in abusive relationships and how they got the courage to leave.

As of now, it’s unclear what the future will hold in store for Rice’s professional football career. It’s possible that Rice will return to the NFL if he and the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) successfully appeal the indefinite suspension. The NFLPA released a statement on Sep. 16 explaining the reasons behind the appeal, one of them being that “under governing labor law, an employee cannot be punished twice for the same action when all of the relevant facts were available to the employer at the time of the first punishment.”

During the next couple weeks, a hearing date for Rice’s appeal must be set. For the time being, Rice’s suspension will stay until the appeal hearing concludes.

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NFL changes abuse policy