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NFL under fire for botching Rice domestic violence case

Ray Rice and his wife, Janay Associated Press/Photo by Patrick Semansky

NFL under fire for botching Rice domestic violence case

Critics accused the National Football League of hypocrisy for increasing the punishment against domestic violence offender Ray Rice only after video of him punching his then-fiancée went public on Monday.

The Baltimore Ravens cut Rice, the team’s star running back, and the NFL indefinitely suspended him over the video posted early Monday by gossip site TMZ, which shows Ray and Janay Rice, then Janay Palmer, fighting in a casino elevator. Rice punches Palmer in the face, knocking her into a railing. A longer version with audio shown to The Associated Press features obscenities and appears to show Palmer spitting in Rice’s face before the punch.

TMZ first reported the story in February with a different video showing Rice dragging Palmer’s limp body out of an elevator in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino. In May, Rice accepted court-ordered counseling as part of a pretrial intervention program to avoid conviction and jail time on felony assault charges.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell faced criticism in July when he gave Rice a two-game suspension. On Aug. 28, Goodell followed up by authorizing six-game suspensions to lifetime bans for future domestic violence offenders, depending on personal history. “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better,” Goodell said.

All summer, the Ravens issued strong statements in support of Rice, praising his overall character, his growing relationship with his wife, and the way he carried himself and accepted responsibility at press conferences. They had deferred to league for discipline, taking no action themselves until Monday. Both league and Ravens officials claimed to be oblivious of the video’s content before then, using the new evidence to justify the added punishments. The video, while disturbing, provided no new facts in the case. Police evidence months ago stated Rice caused “bodily injury to Janay Palmer, specifically by striking her with his hand, rendering her unconscious.”

Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh told reporters Monday night the new video “changed things.” He dodged a question on what the Ravens knew and when. “I don’t want to get into all of that,” he said.

Harbaugh’s comments did nothing to dispel accusations of hypocrisy against the NFL from sports personalities and average joes alike. “Ray Rice was not cut because they saw that video. He was cut because you saw that video,” collegiate track athlete Aaron Ernest alleged in a tweet that went viral.

By Monday evening, numerous voices were calling on Goodell to resign—from ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann to former Philadelphia governor Ed Rendell. Tuesday’s cover of New York’s Daily News features Goodell and the word “DISGRACE.”

Rice’s initial two-game suspension would have been up after Baltimore’s Thursday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rice can’t face more criminal charges for the same offense under the Fifth Amendment. Goodell’s inconsistency, along with players’ rights in the union agreement, means Rice’s new suspension likely could not survive a court challenge, ESPN legal analyst Roger Cossack says. In other words, this controversy is far from over.

Janay Rice defended her husband in a post on her Instagram account Tuesday, blasting TMZ and others in the media for exploiting their situation when they were ready to move on.

“To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing,” she wrote, as confirmed by The Baltimore Sun. "If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow and show the world what real love is!”

The Ravens also announced Tuesday they would allow fans to trade in their Rice jerseys.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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