NFL’s discipline all over the board

July 16, 2014

The National Football League’s justice system might not be blind, but it’s certainly in need of a pair of extremely strong eyeglasses.

We expect to hear soon what sort of league punishment Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice will receive for an assault on his then-girlfriend, now-wife. Rice avoided any significant setbacks in the real legal system. He put a wedding ring on his victim’s finger the day after his indictment for aggravated assault, then was allowed to enter a pretrial intervention program.

Now it’s up to Commissioner Roger Goodell to determine what sort of NFL penalty will be imposed on Rice.

For those who aren’t familiar with the incident, Rice was with his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, at an Atlantic City casino in mid-February when he was spotted dragging her limp body from an elevator. It was captured by a surveillance camera and subsequently viewed by millions. What happened to Palmer to leave her in such a state? It wasn’t intoxication. It was Ray Rice hitting her so hard that he knocked her unconscious. That also reportedly was caught on video.

So, what sort of suspension might be warranted for a so-called man who brutally assaulted his significant other? Estimates from NFL pundits are ranging from two games to six games, with four being seen as most likely. Four games. One-fourth of a season.

Imagine how Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon must feel about that.

Let’s stipulate from the get-go that Gordon is a dunderhead’s dunderhead. He’s facing Goodell’s wrath after testing positive a third time for using marijuana. Earlier this month, for good measure, he tossed in a drunken driving arrest. For his love of the weed, Gordon is almost certainly going to be suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season, perhaps longer. He did nothing to hurt anyone else. He was using a substance that arguably is less harmful than alcohol, which NFL players are more than welcome to consume to their hearts’ content, so long as they don’t get caught driving while under the influence or find themselves engaged in booze-fueled physical confrontations (which don’t seem to happen much with marijuana, by the way).

Certainly, every case should be decided on its merits, but there often seems to be no rhyme nor reason – nor equity – in the way Goodell, and his predecessors, have meted out punishments.

This is a league that, before Goodell’s tenure, gave an eight-game suspension to Leonard Little, a St. Louis Rams defensive end who killed a woman while driving drunk. It’s a league that suspends a player for lighting up a joint but levies no suspension against New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick in the Spygate scandal, in which the Patriots used video to steal the signals of opposing teams’ coaches, giving the Pats a clear competitive advantage. The league then quickly destroyed all the evidence so no one else could investigate.

Then there’s the current case of Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, who was arrested in March for driving while drugged. A search of his SUV turned up a variety of prescription pharmaceuticals in a briefcase and laundry bag, along with nearly $30,000 in cash.

What has Goodell done about this? To date, absolutely nothing. Two months after the arrest, Goodell said he was awaiting “information or more facts.” One fact that seems very clear is that the commissioner is dragging his feet.

Then, just the other day came word that Colts receiver LaVon Brazill would be suspended for the upcoming season for a repeat substance abuse offense. One might think that a team owned by a guy like Irsay, who has been to rehab twice and has spoken of the need to treat drug problems as an illness, would try to get help for the young man. Nope. They kicked him to the curb.

You can be certain that NFL players will be keeping a close eye on how Goodell handles the Irsay case. And you’d probably be making a wise bet if you wagered that when all is said and done, Irsay will get off with a meaningless suspension and a fine that the billionaire owner won’t have any trouble paying.



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