Does the NFL Need Harsher Punishments for Domestic Abuse?


The new, harsher personal conduct policy instituted last year after Ray Rice assaulted his wife in a casino elevator is barely a year old, but already some are calling for new, stricter changes to it.

The reaction comes in the wake of the Chicago Bears’ release of Ray McDonald. McDonald was arrested on Memorial Day for the second time in a year on charges of domestic violence. McDonald was on a one-year, $1.05 million contract with no guaranteed money.

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McDonald’s time with the Bears seems to me like the right balance between the team’s talent needs and social responsibility.

He had a major red flag, but was never convicted of the first set of charges. McDonald was released by his previous team, the San Francisco 49ers, when the first set of charges broke. After the commotion settled down, another team agreed to give him a chance, with no risk to their organization. McDonald allegedly blew the chance. If he’s exonerated again this time, a third team will have the option of rolling the dice yet again.

This is how behavior and consequences work in the rest of the world (most of the time). If I was arrested for assault, I might lose my day job. But once the charges were dropped, I should be able to get it back or be able to continue working in my field.

There are those within the NFL and media who think a special standard needs to be applied to football players.

Nov 23, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald (91) during warm ups before the game against the Washington Redskins at Levi

Early Tuesday morning, Mike Florio of NBC Sports posted a column linking the problems McDonald has with former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was recently convicted of murder.

Florio suggests that, rather than play catch and release with troubled players, any team that rolls the dice and loses should lose commensurate draft picks.

Mike Freeman of Bleacher Report advocates the same.

And there’s support on Twitter for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to intervene, take a hard line and basically implement more of the iron clad justice, well-reasoned justice we’ve become accustomed to during his tenure. /sarcasm

Tom Ley of Deadspin points out some of the reasons this notion is foolhardy. He states, “any player who’s ever been arrested for anything becomes a leper who can’t find a job, or teams just find that much more incentive to cover up their players’ bad behavior.”

Would this change actually be a deterrent to players?  If it’s one strike and you’re out, why bother trying to change, getting counselling, turning your life around, if there’s no possibility of redemption? It’s making a statement that the Randy Mosses and Cris Carters of the world have no place in professional sports anymore.

Some people might feel that way, but I feel strongly that the power of football can have a wonderfully transformative effect on troubled people if the organization provides a positive environment and the player actually wants to succeed.

Taking away draft picks from an organization because of one of their employee’s bad decisions is something that only looks good on paper. It does nothing to prevent domestic violence or provide a support network for someone on the cusp of making bad decisions. I think there is more the league can do, but it must be in partnership with psychology and law enforcement agencies, not putting the onus on league owners who don’t have any experience in this arena.

Not to mention it’s a nigh unenforceable policy. Is there a distinction between the types of charges that would result in the loss of said picks? We know, from the case with Ben Roethlisberger, that the league is willing to suspend players for simply an accusation. Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault; the case was settled out of court and charges were dropped, yet he served a four game suspension (reduced from six).

Does it matter if the player had a history in high school or college? What constitutes a history? Jameis Winston has a history, doesn’t he? If he’s arrested for a DUI or even a speeding ticket, should Tampa Bay have to forfeit a future first round pick?

Nov 5, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Suspended NFL running back Ray Rice arrives with his wife, Janay Rice for his appeal hearing on his indefinite suspension from the NFL. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY

Johnny Manziel didn’t do anything that warranted an arrest, but does checking into rehab count?

All an idea like this does is open up another avenue by which the NFL Commissioner’s office can grow more intrusive into players’ personal lives and wield power over teams with no guarantee of a standard of fairness by which to be judged.

For a consequence as tough as loss of draft picks, you’d think there would need to be “independent investigations” galore. That just gets in the way of real law enforcement conducting a criminal investigation, and as we saw with the Ray Rice case, the league doesn’t do a great job of it.

The NFL’s social consciousness is rightly a hot button issue right now. But the pendulum is swinging from “efforts towards improvement” to “wackjob suggestions to appear tough without really thinking things through.”

Let’s all take a collective breath before rushing forward, shall we? Ray McDonald, and others in his position, is out of a job. He’ll settle his legal issues and then we can what happens. The league office doesn’t need to be involved every time. And we certainly don’t need to take punitive action against teams for what their employees may or may not have done.

Next: Ray McDonald's Arrest Calls for Policy Change

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