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Sept. 22, 2014

The NFL’s broken suspension policy

by James Sleigh, Online Sports Editor
Regardless of the National Football League’s (NFL) decision earlier this last week regarding Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, it is clear that the League’s internal justice system is completely nonsensical. After TMZ released security camera footage in February of Rice dragging the unconscious body of his then-fiancée, now wife out of an elevator, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, somehow allowed Rice to escape with just a two game ban. Months later, in early August, Goodell admitted in a statement to the League’s owners that he was "too lenient" with his suspension verdict.

On the issue of drugs, he isn’t as sympathetic, as was seen in the case of Seattle Seahawk corner Brandon Browner, who is currently serving a 20 game ban for two drug related incidents. Browner was cut by the Denver Broncos at the end of the 2005-06 season, and according to CBS Sports, was unknowingly punished by the NFL while playing in the Canadian Football League the next season for not adhering to the NFL’s mandatory monthly drug test policy. When he finally returned to the league at the start of the 2011-12 football season, he was given the 20-game suspension for failing to report to his drug tests, and for a "small amount of marijuana in his system."

Perhaps the perfect example of the league’s deplorable policy comes in the colossal 6'2'', 230 pound shape of the Arizona Cardinal’s star linebacker Daryl Washington, who was suspended for the 2014-15 season on repeated marijuana charges. According to sbnation, his relatively minor mistake will force him to "forfeit one year of pay as a result, amounting to $2.9 million in base salary and $100,000 in a workout bonus."

In May of 2013, Washington was charged with aggravated assault of his girlfriend when he pushed her down a flight of stairs, breaking her collarbone. Although he pleaded guilty in March of 2014, the NFL has not yet decided to take action. League insiders anticipate the suspension to be around 2-6 games.

For many fans and players alike, the punishment system does not add up. How does a player that recreationally used marijuana, a drug that has been proven to treat symptoms of chronic pain and headaches, get reprimanded more severely than a man dragging the limp body of a woman out of a casino elevator or a man who hospitalized his girlfriend? The NFL needs to reevaluate its policies to protect the wives and relatives of the League’s players.

The NFL made its decision last week to suspend Ray Rice "indefinitely" based on conclusive evidence inside the elevator of Rice striking his wife, Janay, unconscious. League officials claim that it was the first time they had seen the footage from inside the elevator. In the eyes of the NFL, "indefinitely" is an ambiguous word. That same sentence was given former to the former Falcons and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick in 2007, when he admitted to his role in a dogfighting ring that included gambling and the killing of pit bulls. After Vick served his sentence, parole and community service requirements, Vick was able to return to the NFL on the pretense of a "second chance."

The same will happen with Rice. His wife, who has since clung to her husband because of both the emotional trauma of assault, and what many see as a financial decision, has made it clear that she will not press charges. Legally, Rice will be charged with no crime, and consequently the NFL will most likely allow him to play again.

Regardless if Ray Rice is reinstated to the NFL, the League must reform its suspension policy that has and will allow players to physically assault others, while clamping down on players who have occasionally used a drug that has been legalized or decriminalized in many parts of the country.

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  • Sally Graylock on October 2, 2014 at 6:01 AM
    The NFL policy is certainly upside down but I did not realize how unfair until reading this piece. It needs to be right sized and we need a new Commissioner who understands that abuse of women or animals is a serious offense and penalties should reflect as much.
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