Ray Rice’s laughable slap-on-the-wrist suspension for beating his wife has been a popular target for the blogosphere and newspapers as of late. The criticism is warranted, because a two-game suspension for assaulting a woman is a few steps above two lashes with a wet noodle. A common premise in arguments is how other NFL players who have violated the leagues personal conduct policy were given much lengthier suspensions. Lane Johnson will sit out four games for juicing his muscles, while Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon won’t play at all for indulging in the hippy lettuce. Plaxico Burress discharges a loaded gun in his jeans and is still given a longer punishment.
Needless to say, the NFL has shot its image in the leg with this move. After video evidence surfaced of Rice dragging his wife out of an elevator, fans and women’s activists were waiting to see what punitive action would be levied. Instead of a season-long suspension or a lifetime ban, Rice was suspended for a mere two games against meager opponents, which is nothing more than a blip on the grueling 16-game NFL regular season.
This has been an ugly recurrence over commissioner Roger Goodell’s tenure. His new personal conduct policy was supposed to mitigate the deteriorating image of the NFL athlete, but in turn, it has worked against him.
It is hard to picture where the reasoning is behind this lenient sanction. There can only be one explanation to this move: The NFL is a business, and that takes precedence over everything, including their own image. The league is an entertainment-based enterprise, and without an entertainer, there won’t be as many entertainees. With the exception of Gordon, the NFL does not want to lower their profits by benching their best players. They know that the fans butter their bread, and they are drawn in by big names playing in their stadiums.
In the Cleveland Browns’ case, their attendance will take a hit, but luckily they have Johnny Manziel there to bail them out in that metric. Manziel is no stranger to this trend. The former Texas A&M star faced a potential season-long suspension when news surfaced of him using his likeness for commercial purposes, which is against NCAA rules. Using the same cost-benefit analysis, the NCAA essentially threw Manziel in timeout with a two-game suspension instead of grounding him.
The ethics of business governance in professional sports are universal. If you don’t traction yourself by placing your foot in the ground, you will be pushed around by your employees. NBA commissioner Adam Silver would have handled this differently. He made his mark on his league by immediately banning Donald Sterling for life in wake of his racist comments this past spring.
Goodell on the other hand, simply avoids any serious action and waits for the turmoil to die out with a few PR-written speeches. In a nutshell, Goodell holds the shield, while Silver swings the sword.
It is a wonder why Goodell is viewed as a cowardly pushover of a commissioner. He has taken the proper action on occasions like this before, but is never consistent with his assertions. He brought the hammer down, but he missed the nail. With a microscopic suspension like this, fans may speculate as to where the priorities of the NFL lie. As long as their players are garnering millions of dollars, the NFL front offices will turn their heads the other way, and surreptitiously grant their best players exemption from punishment with minor suspensions.