Ray Rice is, or was, an NFL player. He punched his then-fiancee, now wife, at a New Jersey casino, knocking her unconscious. He was charged with a felony assault but entered a deferred prosecution program, and the NFL suspended him for two games . . . and then the video hit the internet, and a firestorm erupted. Because there are so many important and complex issues around the case, this roundup is all about Ray Rice.
The video. TMZ obtained and published the video. It is here.
The reaction. Rice was cut by his team, the Baltimore Ravens, and suspended indefinitely by the NFL. He’s even being removed from the Madden NFL 15 video game. The NFL is investigating itself, to see where it went wrong in dealing with the matter. Local prosecutors are defending their handling of the case as consistent with how other domestic violence cases are handled, particularly in cases like this one where the victim does not support criminal prosecution. Nonetheless, the media is asking whether Rice can be kicked out of his deferred prosecution agreement and prosecuted. It sounds like he can’t.
The call for zero tolerance. Sixteen female senators, among others, are calling for a “real zero tolerance” policy that would have first-time domestic violence offenders banned from the NFL for life. As a private organization, I assume that the NFL has wide authority to determine who can and can’t play in the league. But the call for zero tolerance raises some questions. Should all employers have zero-tolerance policies? If so, a first-time domestic violence offender would effectively be rendered unemployable. If not all employers should have such policies, which ones should? And should such policies truly involve lifetime bans, even for offenders who have shown remorse, completed treatment, and changed their behavior?
What about other players? Ray Rice isn’t the only NFL player to be accused of domestic violence. The Carolina Panthers’ Greg Hardy, for example, was convicted of assault on a female in district court, though he has appealed for trial de novo in superior court. The victim in that case testified that Hardy “flung her from the bed, threw her into a bathtub, then tossed her on a futon covered with rifles” before “ripp[ing] a necklace he had given her off her neck, thr[owing] it into a toilet and slam[ing] the lid on her arm when she tried to fish it out.” Hardy allegedly followed that up by “dragg[ing] her by the hair room to room . . . putting his hands around her throat,” and threatening to kill her. The Panthers and the league have taken the position that the legal process must play out before they will take action based on the allegations. Is that the right position, particularly given the district court adjudication? The league isn’t required to apply the criminal courts’ standard of innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
The importance of video. A key distinction between Rice’s case and other cases is that his acts were caught on video while others’ were not. Assuming that Greg Hardy’s accuser is telling the truth, his conduct is far worse than the single punch thrown by Rice, and a video of those events would make the Rice video look tame by comparison. But shouldn’t our outrage be based on the severity of the conduct in question, not on whether it happens to be caught on video?
Beyond football. Domestic violence isn’t the exclusive purview of football players. Consider another high profile abuser: federal judge Mark Fuller was arrested not long ago in Atlanta and charged with beating and kicking his wife in a hotel. He, too, received a deferral. This article argues for zero tolerance of domestic violence in the federal judiciary, and for the impeachment of Judge Fuller.
Conclusion. I am genuinely conflicted about how to think about the Ray Rice matter. His actions were egregious. That’s true of virtually all the violent crimes that come into the criminal justice system. How Rice’s actions fit in the spectrum of violent crimes, and what sort of punishment he deserves from the courts and from his employer, seem to me questions that aren’t easy to answer. As always, I welcome others’ insights.