A Stones Throw 9-4-14

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I never thought I would be saying something good could come from a violent attack on a woman.

Actually, I still can’t bring myself to acknowledging that this possibility even exists.

However, the recent incident where Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice brutally attacked his then fiancée (now his wife) Janay Palmer has resulted in unintended consequences that have a somewhat positive slant.

When the National Football League (NFL) initially took disciplinary action against Ray Rice, it gave Rice a two game suspension without pay. This suspension came after an NFL investigation that included viewing a video which was taken by a security camera showing the aftermath as Rice exited an elevator where the attack occurred.

The video, as described by journalist Allison McCann, showed, “The elevator doors open and he drops her. She falls to her knees, and then to the floor, but her feet prevent the doors from closing. The man is holding the woman’s purse as he tries to move her unconscious body out of the way using his feet, but she won’t budge. He tries picking her up again, but unconscious bodies can be heavy, even for a 5-foot-8, 208-pound running back in the National Football League.”

Much of the country saw the same video.

Most sports fans saw the video.

It was graphic.

It was sad.

It was difficult to watch.

Even more, it was terrifying to think a man, any man, could so violently attack and abuse a woman.

And then, the NFL came down with a discipline of a two game ban. The NFL (the same league that 68-percent of the time comes down with a four game ban when a player is arrested for DUI or tests positive for marijuana) decided a two game ban for knocking a woman unconscious was appropriate.

The public did not agree.

Immediately after the NFL announced the punishment there was a hue and cry that was so loud against the NFL and the leniency of the suspension, even the NFL had to listen.

And, fortunately, listen it did.

Last week the NFL issued a new “Domestic Abuse” policy.

This policy states “Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant.” (This will not affect Rice’s current suspension.) A second offense will result in a ban from the league, with the opportunity to apply for reinstatement after one year.”

Circumstances that could result in longer suspensions include strong violence (are you listening Ray Rice?), physical abuse of a pregnant woman, domestic abuse in front of children, etc.

The initial response to the new policy was that finally the NFL “got it right.” The second response was that the NFL is simply trying to placate those who felt it was too lenient on Ray Rice – that the new policy does not change the fact that the Ray Rice suspension showed the NFL did not value the safety of women.

Regardless of the motivation, if the NFL didn’t get it right with the new policy – it is close.

One would think that, at the least, NFL players and other personnel have gotten the message. One would think the number of domestic abuse cases will be drastically diminished.

And, in fact, this may be the case.

Unfortunately, this is not the case of San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald who was arrested last Sunday for felony domestic violence against his pregnant fiancée who, among other things, had bruising on her neck and arms after McDonald attacked her.

McDonald’s attack on his fiancée occurred just days after the new NFL domestic abuse policy. Consequently, McDonald will become the test case for the new policy – one that leaves several unanswered questions.

The first, and most serious, is the matter of timing.

When can the NFL rightfully punish a player or other NFL personnel for domestic abuse? If the NFL has to wait until the abuse is either proven in court or when the individual admits to the abuse, the punishment can be delayed for weeks, months, perhaps even years. The longer the delay between the incident of abuse and the punishment, the less impact the policy and the included message.

At the same time, if the NFL immediately issues punishment, the possibility of making a financial and perhaps career altering mistake is possible. Not only is it possible that circumstances and evidence will not support a charge of domestic abuse, it is also possible that a disgruntled person could be vindictive enough to claim abuse when no abuse actually happens.

Thus the dilemma.

Should the NFL immediately issue punishment? Should it wait for a legal determination? Or, should it do its own investigation and act accordingly?

I think there are strong arguments in favor and strong arguments against each of these options.

While no one in the NFL has asked me for my advice, I will offer it anyway.

First and foremost, the message that domestic abuse will not be tolerated has to be loud and clear. There must be strong and immediate consequences for those who choose violence as a way to resolve domestic disputes.

Having said this, at the same time each individual has the right of “due process” in determining guilt, innocence, or at least culpability.

So, here is my solution – the NFL can simply exercise all three options at the same time.

How is that done?

Simple.

Actually, not so simple.

The first thing I would do is immediately suspend the pay of the accused individual for a period of six weeks for the first offense. I would allow the individual to continue to play (work) without pay if he/she so chooses, for the six week period unless he/she either admits responsibility or the court determines legal responsibility.

Taking this action sends a strong financial message that can be rectified in the future if the individual is later determined not guilty of domestic abuse. If this becomes the case, the suspended pay could be reimbursed with appropriate interest.

In addition, if the accused individual continues to play (work) during this six week period, his/her career would potentially move forward in a normal manner.

At the same time, if the individual decides to continue to play (work) and subsequently is found guilty, or admits responsibility, the six game suspension would immediately take effect.

Confused yet?

Me too.

Whatever happens concerning the domestic abuse policy of the NFL going forward, we can be ensured it will get “messy” before it gets stabilized.

Regardless, Ray Rice, perhaps because of his violence against his then-fiancée, probably did more to make the NFL, and all of America, aware of the despicable actions of domestic abuse than could have been done in any other way.

Sad but true.

While I wait and watch the outcome of the Ray McDonald case both in the courts and from the NFL, my wish is that the NFL policy on domestic abuse had been in place prior to the Ray Rice incident. I can’t think of a person more suited to the “more severe” punishment allowed by the new policy.

In fact, I wish Rice could have, and would have, been banned for life. That is the message that really should have been sent.

– Mike Cooney