There's been a lot of clamor and outrage resulting from the NFL's recent two-game suspension of Ray Rice. Initially, I felt pretty much the same as other people; two games seemed awfully lean for a guy who butchered his girlfriend in cold blood.
Of course, that's not what happened. We don't know what happened. We know what we know, which is that Rice and his fiancee (Janay Palmer) were arrested and charged with simple assault. Then, the charges against his girlfriend (now wife) were dropped, and the charge against Rice got switched to third-degree aggravated assault. Rice eventually avoided jail time by entering a program for first-time offenders, which I don't know what that means and is probably rich-person-talk for "They were rich so they didn't really have to pay for their criminal activities."
Maybe that's not fair to Rice, but since the judicial system was more than fair to him, I'm okay leaning the other way.
Back to the suspension, I think two games is about what you can do. The law basically let him off the hook, which means sportswriters are expecting the NFL to hold their players to a higher standard than a United States court of law. That might not be fair.
Another thing to consider is that Ray Rice is protected by the NFL Players Association. There's simply no way that they wouldn't get involved in this situation; this situation is precisely the reason that the NFLPA keeps lawyers on retainer. My guess is, the NFLPA met with the commissioner's office, and they found a number that the NFLPA wouldn't appeal, because the NFLPA doesn't want to deal with the PR disaster of trying to protect a "wife-beater." By the way, we have exactly one incident that we know of that involves Ray Rice getting physical with a woman. I'm not saying it's impossible that this was indicative of his overall behavior; I'm just saying we don't know.
And that's what it mostly comes down to. We only know what we know, and what we know is pretty flimsy. I wonder if there would have been similar outcry if the NFL went the other way and gave Rice a one- or two-year ban. My guess is he'd have been forgotten in a few days, except in Baltimore, where Ravens fans would decry the league for ruining their team, until some new young running back showed promise. At which point, everyone would forget about Rice, until he slinked back into the league, signing with the Cowboys for the league minimum.
We find it so gratifying to act as judge, jury, and executioner on all these high profile cases involving superstar athletes or other celebrities. We hold them to incredible standards, and when they fail those standards, we crucify them. Maybe the two-game suspension was a little light. Or maybe it was the kind of measured response that sports fans just can't stomach.
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