September 8, 2014

SHATZMAN | Reflecting on Ray Rice, the NFL and the Flawed Legal System

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The Baltimore Ravens released star running back Ray Rice yesterday. The NFL dropped a second hammer on the 27-year-old by changing the length of his suspension from the two games that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell originally handed him to “indefinitely.” Rice’s professional football career is now in serious jeopardy.

The shocking news stems from a February domestic violence incident at an Atlantic City casino involving Rice and his then-fiancée Janay Palmer. The altercation resulted in the arrests of both Rice and Palmer, and, a month later, the indictment of Rice on third-degree aggravated assault. Goodell suspended Rice for just two games, a decision that received harsh criticism. Some even called for Goodell’s resignation. Outside of football, Rice, who originally faced what could have been a three to five year jail sentence, got off the hook. A New Jersey judge placed Rice in a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders, and the Ravens star avoided incarceration.

But despite backlash surrounding Goodell’s decision, the matter seemed to have ended. Rice was to miss two regular season games and participate in an intervention program, and that was that. At training camp, Ravens’ fans greeted Rice with a standing ovation. It appeared as though many had forgiven — or at least put aside — his off-field issues. That is, until yesterday.

TMZ, the website that had originally posted a video of Rice dragging his fiancée’s body out of the casino elevator, released more footage today — footage that very well may have put the nail in the coffin in regards to Rice’s NFL career. The revealing video shows Rice punching Palmer, knocking her out cold, and then dragging her motionless body out of the elevator. You have to see it to believe it. And that was the case for the NFL. The league claimed not to have seen the footage until its release today. Upon seeing the video, both the Ravens and the league took to action: the Ravens cut Rice, and the NFL suspended him indefinitely.

The whole situation seems fishy. It seems improbable that TMZ could obtain footage from the casino elevator, but that the NFL Commissioner could not. And while many are pleased with yesterday’s decisions, why only after seeing the video were these punishments handed down? Seeing it as opposed to hearing it certainly makes a difference, and that was proved today by Rice’s release and his indefinite suspension.

But there is one overarching issue that remains, one that takes precedence over all parts of the story: Ray Rice was able to commit domestic assault with hardly any legal consequences. Again, did the judge and prosecutor fail to obtain the damaging footage from the elevator that TMZ, of all sources, was able to acquire? It makes no sense. Such revealing evidence related to a criminal procedure would surely be handed to the court, right? And if the court did in fact see the video, then why in the world was Rice accepted into a program that enables the accused to avoid trial? It couldn’t possibly because of Rice’s celebrity status, could it? Heck, Plaxico Burress served two years of incarceration for accidentally shooting himself in a nightclub. If Ray Rice had been sentenced to time in prison, Goodell would never have had to discipline Rice at all — at least for a long time — because he would not have had the freedom to walk the streets, much less play professional football.

Even more upsetting is the report by the Huffington Post that revealed that the same judge and prosecutor who granted Ray Rice access to the pre-trial program are prosecuting a single mother from Philadelphia who “carried a gun into New Jersey without realizing her permit didn’t apply there.” So, the football star who clocked his fiancée avoids any serious legal problems, but a single mother of two was offered a plea deal that she declined, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, because the deal “…would have given her a 3.5 year sentence,” and instead “…decided to go to trial in October, hoping a jury would use some common sense and not send a working mother of two to prison for not knowing New Jersey’s gun laws.” And by the way, this occurred after the judge refused to accept her into the same first-time offender program that Rice was placed in. Superstar treatment for the NFL superstar? It certainly appears that way.

The point is, Roger Goodell is not at fault for originally imposing a lenient punishment on Ray Rice, but the legal system — the aforementioned judge and prosecutor — are to blame. Goodell simply issued a punishment consistent with prior domestic violence issues in the league. Had Rice received, say, two years in jail for the matter, Goodell wouldn’t have had to punish Rice whatsoever, or at least until he was released from incarceration. Unfortunately, the legal system is quite flawed. It is up to people like Superior Court Judge Michael Donio and New Jersey D.A. Jim McClain to implement fair punishments for all criminals, no matter the status of the individual.

When comparing the cases of NFL running back Ray Rice and single mother of two Shaneen Allen, it appears that the legal system isn’t as fair as we’d like it to be.