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The NFL's Handling of Domestic Violence Allegations Gives New Meaning to "Fantasy Football"

Obviously, the inconsistency in the League's response to certain violations of the NFL's personal conduct policy is becoming a serious issue.
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According to a USA Today database of NFL arrests, domestic violence is the third highest category of football player arrests, following only DUI and simple assault and battery. Still the NFL has an arrest rate of less than half that of the general population.

Does that make the allegations okay? No. As a criminal defense attorney, have I helped numerous defendants charged with domestic violence? Yes. Does that mean I support domestic violence? No.

I'm glad we've got that out of the way.

When the Ray Rice story first broke, there was some outrage as to the brevity of his suspension. After all, Rice had admitted to striking Janay Palmer, now his wife. When video of the knockout punch surfaced, though, it created an outright uproar. It's one thing to hear someone say, "I hit my fiance," but it's quite another to actually witness the force of the strike. Upon the video's release, a public furor was unleashed. How could the NFL commissioner think that such a heinous act only merited a brief suspension?

Obviously, the inconsistency in the League's response to certain violations of the NFL's personal conduct policy is becoming a serious issue.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for six games (eventually reduced to four) after being accused of sexual assault, despite the fact that he wasn't convicted of any crime. Are domestic abuse allegations worse than sexual assault allegations, or would "Big Ben" have faced the same scrutiny if there were a video of the incident? The Arizona Cardinals effectively ended Jonathan Dwyer's season after he was arrested on domestic violence allegations, yet there has been no disposition in the case whatsoever. Adrian Peterson now faces...well, who knows?

Roger Goodell claims that he never saw the elevator-video, or his initial response to the incident would have been more serious. Whether or not Goodell saw the video--and if not, why he didn't see the video--is the subject of an independent investigation ordered by the league and conducted by former FBI director Robert Mueller.

However, whether Gooddell saw the video prior to his proclamation of punishment is only a parisitic aspect of the main issue: Goodell knew the allegations, he made a decision, and he is now backtracking to save face.

Just think about it. Damn near everyone with cable or internet access saw the "original" video of Ray Rice dragging Janay Palmer out of an elevator. Ray Rice admitted that he hit Janay Palmer in the elevator.

2 +2 = ... what?

Palmer was seemingly unconscious when she and Rice exited the elevator. There could have been other explanations for that; regardless, the fact that Rice admitted to hitting her moments before he had to drag her from the elevator made it seem fairly clear (at least in my eyes) that Rice had something to do with Palmer's subsequent condition. It was those facts, and that evidence at the very least, that Gooddell based his initial determination on. But now that the video from inside the elevator has become public knowledge, suddenly Gooddell's position as to punishment has changed.

According to Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti, viewing the video changed his perception of what transpired in that elevator as well. Prior to seeing the video, he and his team reprotedly "imagined what we wanted to imagine": that Janay Palmer was attacking Ray Rice, who struck her in self-defense, causing her to lose balance and strike her head, which rendered her unconscious. So...everyone involved apparently just "imagined" what happened?

That, my friends, gives a whole new meaning to "fantasy football."

Still, general manager Ozzie Newsome didn't "imagine" anything. Newsome reports that he and John Harbaugh met with Rice shortly after the arrest, and that Rice's account of the event matched the elevator-video. That leads me to believe Ray Rice told team officials that his striking Janay Pamler ultimately led to her becoming unconscious, one way or another; however, now that the video surfaces showing Rice swinging like it is the first round of a title fight, everyone is somehow caught off guard? Was that sort of force somehow not what team officials "imagined" happened?

Law enforcement says the video was sent to the NFL in April. However, spokesman Greg Aiello says that he has no knowledge of anyone in the league having seen the video prior to its public release. Roger Goodell goes as far as to say he asked for the video, but law enforcement would not release it to him. If Roger Goodell had access to the video prior to making his decision, then it smacks of "cover up." If he did not, I wonder why he didn't make an effort to more fully investigate the matter.

The whole situation is a sham. We can argue that the NFL has a new policy, apparently levying out indefinite suspensions for any domestic violence caught on film, but which only carries a six game suspension without pay for a first arrest (with mitigation circumstances considered), and a possible indefinite suspension for repeat offenders.

Wait a minute...didn't Ray Rice get an indefinite suspension? Wasn't this his first domestic violence arrest?


Of course, calling on the NFL to punish alleged crimes beyond what the justice system metes out, and to also keep that punishment equal and somewhat predictable, is an issue in its own right. Should the NFL be called to a higher standard, or is it enough to let the wheels of justice turn and let law enforcement handle off-field conduct?

Hell the League already has twelve players with past domestic violence arrests still playing.

So, Roger Goodell, I ask you: where is the line, and how are you going to draw it?

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