September 18, 2014

FORKEN | Don’t Blame the NFL

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On July 24, the National Football League suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games in response to a video leaked to the public by TMZ, which shows Rice dragging his wife’s unconscious body from an elevator at Revel Casino in Atlantic City. While the general public swiftly condemned the actions of the NFL as too lenient and demanded Rice be further punished for his transgressions, much debate still revolved around whether the NFL had seen the full video of the incident inside the elevator and what that tape would show if it did in fact exist. That discussion ended on September 8, as TMZ uncovered further video showing that Rice threw an explosive punch, knocking his wife off her feet and into the railing, rendering her unconscious. At this point, the Ravens cut Rice from the team and the NFL issued him an indefinite suspension. The public still remains outraged at the initially hesitant reaction from the NFL — their anger is misguided.

After prosecutors presented Rice’s case to a grand jury, the charges were elevated from simple assault to aggravated assault, a charge that carries a five-year maximum prison sentence. Less than a week later, Rice rejected a plea deal that would have spared him jail time, pending participation in probation and anger management courses. Instead, Rice applied for and was granted access to a pretrial intervention program that will expunge the incident from Rice’s record upon completion. Typically, the program is used for nonviolent crimes as well as “victimless” crimes; a report from Outside The Lines discovered that this program was approved for less than one percent of all domestic abuse cases in New Jersey in the past three years.

Despite Rice’s wife not wishing to proceed with the case, prosecutor Diane Ruberton maintained that she was confident in the prosecution’s ability to secure a conviction at trial with the available evidence, not pending on the victim testifying.

After interviewing New Jersey defense lawyers and prosecutors, New York Times columnist David Kocieniewski explains that the result of this domestic abuse case wasn’t exactly surprising — jail time or other serious legal consequences are a rare penalty for domestic violence cases.

The unexplainable lack of legal punishment for Rice suggests two possible societal issues: Either the running back received special treatment and an expedited process because he was a superstar NFL player or, and perhaps more troubling, the courts systematically belittle the effects of domestic violence by failing to adequately address these cases.

The Center for Court Innovation studied the effects of intervention programs for offenders in the Bronx and concluded that the method is ineffective in lowering recidivism rates. After successfully lobbying for a bill to toughen penalties for domestic abusers, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. claimed, “Conviction seems to be one of the big deterrents. Most studies seem to suggest the more intrusive the sentence, the lower the rate of recidivism.”

Did the NFL address the Rice situation in a timely and appropriate manner? Certainly not. But they eventually got it right. Rice is no longer an NFL player. The league rightfully changed their domestic violence policy — first time offenders will now receive a six game suspension, while anything further will result in a lifetime ban. Albeit a sluggish and painful development, the NFL did everything they could to get it right.

Don’t blame the NFL. Blame the judicial system entrusted with the responsibility of upholding justice and protecting the public with allowing domestic violence cases to be continually swept under the rug and perpetrators to walk the streets and batter more women.

If the court system worked, Rice would have been in jail and the NFL would have had no part in deciding his punishment. What does it say when we depend on a for-profit business to discipline offenders rather than on courts which are tasked with the sole responsibility of upholding justice and convicting criminals?

This is not an NFL problem. This is a societal problem. The punishments for violent domestic abusers are too lenient and allow far too many offenders to continue their cruelty. Yes, the NFL initially failed to properly discipline Rice, but they got it right in the end, while also ensuring future criminals will experience more stringent penalties. It’s time the legal system does the same.

Jake Forken is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He may be reached at [email protected]. My Forken Opinion appears alternate Fridays this semester.