Running back Ray Rice, who knocked out his fiancée with a punch in an elevator in February, has been reinstated by the National Football League after a judge accepted his appeal of an indefinite suspension by the league. Rice’s contract was terminated by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, so even though he’s again eligible to play he’ll have to be signed by a team to do so.
Former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones concluded [pdf] that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had made an arbitrary decision:
I am not persuaded that Rice lied to, or misled, the NFL at his June interview, I find that the indefinite suspension was an abuse of discretion and must be vacated.
Rice, who was shown on video unceremoniously dragging the unconscious mother of his child out of the elevator, was initially suspended by Goodell for two games, then for six games. But after a longer video emerged in September showing Rice striking Janay Palmer (now married to Rice) before he dragged her out of the elevator, Goodell made the suspension indefinite. The NFL claimed that Rice, during a June interview, had misled the league about the nature of what had occurred, and it only fully understood what happened after seeing the second video.
Jones may have taken Rice’s side in the appeal, but she took the NFL to task for its overall lack of understanding about, and attention to, domestic violence by its players:
Moreover, any failure on the part of the League to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice’s description of the event but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence. That the League did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely.
Clearly, each of Goodell’s increasingly severe sanctions against Rice were a reaction to widespread uproar about the commissioner’s initial leniency–including calls for his resignation from feminist groups and questions from Congress–rather than a growing consciousness about domestic violence. The league has since released anti-violence PSAs (in collaboration with NO MORE and the Joyful Heart Foundation) and established a task force on domestic violence and sexual assault, but we’ll stay tuned to what recommendations come forth and how the NFL handles future abuses committed by its players. As Teresa C. Younger, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women (not connected to Ms. magazine), put it,
There is much talk of moving forward with bold and effective new policies and programs to change the culture of football. Now, Commissioner Goodell and the NFL franchises must walk the talk. They must dismantle the sexist machine that is the NFL and rebuild it to respect and include women at all levels.