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New NFL domestic violence penalties may still not be enough

By Dan Sostek / Staff Writer

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While most of the country views football as its prized national pastime, the National Football League has its problems. The one at the forefront of national conversation recently is player health and safety as well as how the sport’s inherent risk of concussions is destroying retired  — and some current — players.

But there’s another issue that, rather quietly, has been steadily plaguing the league and its players: domestic abuse. On Aug. 29, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced sweeping new domestic abuse sanctions for players, and since that announcement, another allegation has come forward against a 49ers defensive end.

The cases of domestic abuse charges against NFL players are almost as easy to rattle off as the past five Super Bowl winners. Most recently, there was Ravens running back Ray Rice — captured on tape dragging his unconscious fiance out of an elevator after an altercation — and then there was 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald — accused this past week of punching a pregnant woman. In addition, Panthers Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy was charged with assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend this past summer. Stars like wide receiver Brandon Marshall and retired linebacker James Harrison have both been charged in the past as well.

For a league so predicated on aggression, perhaps it isn’t shocking that violence occurs so often off the field as well. According to a report on Nate Silver’s website FiveThirtyEight, there have been 83 domestic violence-related arrests of NFL players since 2000.

But why all the fuss now? Why hasn’t there been a bigger uproar before? One reason: timing.

People were incredulous when Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that Ray Rice would only be suspended for a measly two games as a result of his heinous actions. A month later, when Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon was suspended for an entire season for his second failed drug test due to marijuana, people began to look closer at the NFL’s handling of domestic abuse, calling for change.

Goodell responded to the clamor by modifying the league’s policy on domestic abuse, implementing new guidelines that dictate a six-game suspension for a first violation and a lifetime ban for the second. Despite seemingly being directly caused by Rice’s case, his suspension has not been altered.

Though it is a step in the right direction and some are happy with this resolution, I still am not. First, the suspension parameters are illogical. If a second suspension carries as great a weight as a lifetime ban, then the first suspension should be much more harsh than six games. 

If the NFL wanted to discourage this behavior, the league would have enacted a season-long first offense suspension.

A season-long suspension would place a permanent mark on the player, rather than becoming an afterthought about players like Marshall or Harrison. These are the types of transgressions that the NFL should be flexing its punitive muscle on, rather than failed marijuana tests.

Instead, the new rules reek of insincerity, only attempting to appease the rumblings of paying fans rather than taking a strong stance on a straightforward issue. While the lifetime ban seems extremely stringent on paper, it simply exists to make sure a player who has committed a violation once won’t commit one again, rather than making a point to simply prevent these violations from occurring in the first place.

This is yet another example of Commissioner Goodell being reactionary rather than preventative. Every move he makes, from domestic abuse policy to player safety, seems to be solely influenced by public outcry rather than by his own moral compass.

With a decision pending on the 49ers’ McDonald, who was charged on a felony count for  abuse of a pregnant woman, Goodell has a chance to set a precedent. The new domestic abuse policy allows for harsher punishment if the victim is pregnant. The commissioner can prove a lot of doubters wrong with a swift and severe penalty.

Here’s hoping he does.

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New NFL domestic violence penalties may still not be enough