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Editorial: NFL fumbles chance on domestic violence

League missed opportunity to send a message

Tuesday, July 29, 2014
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It's probably says something a little sad about society that we look to the National Football League to place value on social problems.

Still, if the nation's most popular sport (sorry, soccer) can have an impact on our young people, particularly impressionable young athletes, then why not?

So it's more than a little disappointing that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed only a two-game suspension on superstar Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice last week in response to a videotape showing him dragging his fiance unconscious from an Atlantic City casino elevator in February after he apparently knocked her out. Police say they have footage of the beating as well.

"We simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game," Goodell wrote in a letter to Rice. "This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."

Given how the NFL has previously punished players for offenses on and off the field, the commissioner's statement on the league's intolerance of domestic violence is a non-funny joke.

The NFL since 2006 has suspended more than 70 players for positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs and recreational drugs like marijuana. According to Deadspin, two players were suspended for four games for testing positive for drugs. A Browns wide receiver could lose the entire season for smoking pot. Another player got eight games at the end of last year for a second drug offense.

Plaxico Burress of the Giants got suspended four games for accidentally shooting himself in the leg. One player, Terrelle Pryor, was suspended for five games even before he was drafted into the NFL for trading signed personal items for tattoos during college.

So it's clear the NFL takes offenses seriously, even when there's been no criminal conviction.

But one of its players knocks a woman unconscious, and all he gets is a two-game suspension? What does that say about the league's social conscience?

According to the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, domestic violence, particularly against women, is a significant issue in New York.

In 2012, there were 119,355 total assaults reported by police agencies outside New York City. Of those, 27 percent were committed by intimate partners, with women being the victim 80 percent of the time. Nearly 60 percent of female homicide victims aged 16 and older were killed by an intimate partner that year. In 2012, 22 percent of the state's 27,823 parolees had a history of domestic violence. And 218,570 orders of protection issued in New York in 2012 were recorded in the Unified Court System's Domestic Violence Registry. State and local governments and courts devote millions of dollars to curbing and punishing domestic violence.

But the NFL decides that smoking pot — which is legal in the two states whose teams played in the Super Bowl this year, by the way — is more egregious than beating your partner unconscious.

If the NFL truly wants to be a role model for today's young athletes, it must take issues like domestic violence more seriously. In this case, the league missed an opportunity to lead, by punishing a knockout punch to a woman with a slap on the wrist.

 
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