Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice lost his job Monday, and the National Football League endured a fresh salvo of criticism after surveillance video surfaced showing Rice knocking his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February.
Rice had been suspended for the first two games of the season after the NFL’s initial investigation, but the new footage released Monday by TMZ.com, which shows Rice striking Palmer, made clear the violent nature of the incident. Those images prompted outcry across social and traditional media over the relative leniency of the original punishment from the country’s most popular and prosperous sports league.
As criticism mounted and the video circulated well beyond the sphere of typical football fans, the Ravens and the league reevaluated the situation, and Monday afternoon the Ravens cut Rice, with the NFL imposing an indefinite suspension shortly thereafter.
“I don’t know much about football, but I know that Ray Rice is a piece of garbage who shouldn’t be allowed to play it professionally anymore,” actor Seth Rogen wrote via Twitter, before directly referencing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s account. “@nflcommish your punishment for beating a woman is less than for smoking weed.”
Dozens of current and former NFL players sounded off on their social media accounts. Denver Broncos lineman Terrance Knighton wrote on Twitter: “That man should be thrown out the [sic] the nfl and thrown into jail. Shame on those deciding his punishment.”
Former Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher challenged Goodell directly by tweeting: “to say you got that wrong [with Rice’s initial two-game suspension] is an understatement. Very disappointed in you.”
Both the Ravens and the league said they had not reviewed the footage from inside the elevator prior to Monday. “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator,” the NFL said in a statement early Monday. “That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”
In a later statement, the league indicated the league’s revised punishment stemmed from the new video footage.
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said he met with General Manager Ozzie Newsome, team President Richard Cass and owner Steve Bisciotti to make the decision to release Rice. According to Harbaugh, he and Newsome spoke to Rice in the afternoon.
“It changed things, of course,” Harbaugh said of the video at an evening news conference at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills, Md. “It made things a little bit different.”
Rice had been in the middle of the two-game suspension without pay, missing the Ravens’ season-opening home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Under the initial suspension, he was to have been eligible to rejoin the team on Friday, following Thursday night’s game in Baltimore against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Rice also was fined an additional game check based on last season’s salary. The initial punishment was to have cost him approximately $529,000. That punishment, handed out in July, had been widely criticized as being too soft. After initially defending the decision, Goodell later acknowledged he’d erred in making that decision.
Goodell and the league announced new domestic violence penalties last month in which players involved in future domestic violence cases would be subject to a six-game suspension for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a repeat offense. A repeat offender would be permitted to apply for reinstatement to the league after one year. When introducing the new policy, Goodell wrote in a letter to the owners of the 32 NFL teams: “I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”
The Ravens, until Monday, had been unwavering in their support for Rice. A Ravens executive wrote on the team’s Web site in late July that he’d been told by Bisciotti: “Don’t we all have days or moments or periods in our life we regret? Ray showed great character for the six years I’ve known him. He has shown remorse after a bad incident. It was out of character. I don’t think now is the time to abandon him.”
Many of Rice’s teammates stood behind the large group of reporters that surrounded Rice, showing support for him, when Rice addressed the mediaat the team’s facility during training camp. Rice received ovations from the crowds at M&T Bank Stadium during training camp and the NFL preseason.
His release from the Ravens imperils Rice’s football career. The NFL notified teams Monday that a contract with Rice, 27, would not be approved or take effect until further guidance is provided by the league office. The Canadian Football League also said it would honor the suspension. Additionally, other NFL teams are likely to be wary of a public backlash — even if he’s readmitted to the league — people within the sport said.
A return isn’t out of the question, however. An executive with another NFL team noted Monday that quarterback Michael Vick, now with the New York Jets, resumed his NFL career with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009 after missing two full seasons and being imprisoned on charges related to running a dogfighting operation.
“It’s possible [Rice] makes it back at some point,” the executive said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized by his team to publicly address Rice’s future chances of playing in the league. “Vick made it back. But any team would look at it very skeptically and wonder if it was worth the trouble. His production [as a player] was slipping. So that works against him, too.”
The commentary surrounding the incident and the league’s handling of it continued Monday in the wake of the suspension, with many voicing approval of the line ultimately drawn by the NFL.
“After seeing the shocking video of Ray Rice beating his fiancee, it’s appalling that the criminal justice system in New Jersey essentially gave him a free pass,” Becky Bond, the political director of CREDO, a women’s rights group that had lobbied the NFL on the issue, said in a written statement. “The NFL did the right thing and suspended Ray Rice from football, but we have a long way to go in solving our nation’s violence against women problem.”
Others within the league said they were pleased to see the NFL take further disciplinary action.
“Am I happy that the NFL has taken a harder stance? Yes, I am,” Buffalo Bills Coach Doug Marrone said when asked about the development at his regular media briefing. Marrone later added: “There’s no excuse for abuse. I really believe that.”
The NFL is the nation’s most popular and prosperous sport, with annual revenues estimated to be about $10 billion and escalating. Goodell and the league received withering criticism since the initial suspension of Rice. But sports business experts have said in recent weeks they don’t believe the controversy threatens the NFL’s financial health.
“I think there’s only an issue if fans and sponsors and TV partners think there’s a chronic problem with the league, that it can’t get its act together and address these things effectively and be responsive,” David Carter, the executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, said in a recent telephone interview. “There’s no indication that we’re there.”
Though the situation may have quieted for now, the issue of domestic violence may resurface in the weeks ahead. San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald faces potential discipline under the new guidelines after being arrested Aug. 31, after police found marks on his pregnant fiancee’s arms and neck. He participated in the 49ers’ Sunday game against the Dallas Cowboys and is awaiting possible charges from the district attorney and a Sept. 15 court date.