Justice System Deserves Blame in Ray Rice Case, Not NFL

While the world focuses on the National Football League and its policies toward domestic violence—as well as the all-important question of what commissioner Roger Goodell knew (and when)—the bigger story here is the failure of the justice system.

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice belongs in jail. While the NFL has suspended him “indefinitely,” it would be even harder for him to play football from a jail cell.

Our society’s emphasis on punishment outside of the justice system has gotten out of hand. The proper venue for determining a punishment for Rice’s crime—punching his then-fiancé, now-wife to the point she was unconscious—is a court of law, not his workplace. The NFL may be all-important to some, but it is not a court of law.

Locally, we are seeing a similar incident play out with Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49ers. McDonald was arrested on suspicion of felony domestic violence against his pregnant fiancé, but he has not been charged with a crime. The incident is still being investigated.

If McDonald were to be charged with a crime, his presence at work would become an even bigger issue. The 49ers, along with McDonald, would then have to determine whether his presence is appropriate. But even a charge is not a conviction. If convicted, the court system would determine how long McDonald is prevented from playing. An additional punishment at his workplace, which happens to be the NFL, seems excessive—unless expressly stipulated in a contract.

A jail sentence should affect his ability to make a living, not an arbitrary workplace rule imposed by a commissioner whose bosses are the league;’s 32 owners. Do we really want employers determining additional punishment for crimes? Is it the role of employers to be prosecutor, judge and jury?

Felons in our society have an incredibly difficult time finding employment. Our justice system is supposed to punish, but also rehabilitate. A person who commits a crime and pays the price should not be prevented from making a living when they are no longer incarcerated. But our society doesn’t always afford second chances. Many convicts are left with few options other than becoming career criminals, just to survive after they serve their time. Not surprisingly, statistics show convicted felons are much more likely to commit a crime, and employers are more fearful to hire them as a result.

It is a conundrum; a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle.

Our nation incorrectly expects Goodell, or 49ers owner Jed York, to be the individuals responsible for punishing football players who allegedly commit crimes. National pundits are only too happy to condemn Goodell—and, in many cases, rightfully so. But the real issue is how we justify assigning him that power. Since January, 39 NFL players have been arrested on criminal charges—mostly for drug and alcohol crimes. That accounts for less than one percent of the league’s players. Admittedly, they are the ones who get the headlines, but it is not an epidemic of crime.

Those who do perpetrate domestic violence or other heinous crimes should be prosecuted and convicted. The District Attorney's office in Santa Clara County is one of the best at going after these individuals--even if victims do not cooperate. There is a good chance McDonald will go to jail if he is charged.

But the most offensive aspect of the Ray Rice incident remains the failure of the justice system. Michael Vick killed dogs and got more time than Ray Rice, who struck a human being and very well could have killed her. Neither crime is acceptable behavior, but one crime is more serious than the other, with all due respect to my friends at PETA. The prosecutor in Rice’s case defended the punishment as fitting the crime—third-degree assault—but the crime charged should have been much more severe.

The justice system failed in the Rice case. Everyone who demands the resignation of Goodell should first focus his or her attention on the prosecutor and judge in the case.

Rich Robinson is an attorney and political consultant in Silicon Valley. Opinions are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside.


  1. The NFL is in the business of providing entertainment. The criminal justice system is charged with dealing with crime and criminals. The NFL suspended Ray Rice two games, which would have cost him nearly $500,000, and the response was indignant howls of outrage. The criminal justice system allowed him to walk away with nothing more than having to attend classes, and the response was….yawns and silence. I agree that the outrage is misplaced.

  2. People like Ray Rice have been getting special treatment, and normally it all goes unnoticed. If Roger Goodell is guilty of anything it’s of not noticing that things had reached a tipping point, and that the old ways of doing things were no longer going to work.

    Pressure on the NFL to clean up its act will put pressure on the criminal justice system to clean up its act too. It’s easy to see the parallels between the NFL and its handling of this issue and with the interaction that PG&E has had with the PUC. The PUC isn’t doing its job either. I bet you believe that has nothing to do with PG&E.

  3. Agree that we expect too much of employers. The outrage toward the NFL and it’s commissioner is misplaced and has a smug 20/20 hindsight quality about it.
    If any outrage is warranted it should be directed against the 49ers for suspending announcer Ted Robinson for stating a very reasonable, yet politically incorrect opinion on Janay Rice’s remarks and actions. This squashing of freedom of speech has gone ominously unremarked upon.

  4. I think both parties are guilty of doing the wrong thing when it comes to allowing these overpaid athletes to get a way with crimes that the rest of us would be locked up for. Sad to think that people will keep making them rich by paying outrageous prices to see them play~

    • How do things get done in the world of sports?

      Rice’s attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein, allegedly obtained a copy of the inside-the-elevator video in April, and according to ESPN, Ravens president Dick Cass did not request to view it. Instead, the Ravens focused on making sure the video never became public, ESPN reported.

      Ravens executives pressured NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to give Rice no more than a two-game suspension, sources told ESPN. And the execs pushed for prosecutors to allow Rice into the state’s pretrial intervention program — which results in charges being dropped if completed successfully.


      Meanwhile, remember Penn State? This is last year’s news on Penn State.

      The NCAA said Tuesday that it will reduce the unprecedented sanctions against Penn State’s football program by gradually restoring scholarships starting next season. Officials did not rule out future modifications, such as reducing the four-year postseason ban.

      The announcement comes 14 months after NCAA president Mark Emmert levied the historic penalties in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal. Penn State had faced a cap of 65 scholarships starting in 2014, but instead will have 75 scholarships in 2014, 80 in 2015 and the full allotment of 85 in 2016.


    • So, why should the taxpayers provide the business premises (i.e., stadiums) for these overpaid athletes and billionare owners. If a team needs a new billion dollar stadium, why can’t all the overpaid athletes chip in and build it?

      What happens if the 49ers turn into perennial basement dwellers, fans get fed up with gridlock parking and ten dollar hot dogs and stop going to the games?

      Then what?

      Tax payers are stuck with the debt payments on a gigantic white elephant stadium.


  5. I agree with this, it seems people only care about a stupid game suspension. The guy committed a CRIME and should be in jail. The legal system is the one who deals with legal issues. Where is the outrage he is not in jail?

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