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.