Senators to NFL: Ravens Running Back Rice Needs Harsher Punishment for Domestic Violence

Three Democratic senators urged NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to impose a stiffer punishment on a Baltimore Ravens running back for his off-season domestic violence arrest.

Ray Rice agreed to enter a counseling program to avoid prosecution on a third-degree aggravated assault indictment stemming from a February incident in Atlantic City, where he was captured on video dragging his unconscious fiancee -- now his wife -- out an elevator.

Rice said it was a "one-time incident" and "totally inexcusable."

"That's something I have to live with the rest of my life. The pain I'm talking about living with is waking up every day, and my daughter is 2 years old now, and I have a little girl, who's very smart, very intelligent, and one day she's going to know the power of Google, and me having to explain that to her, what happened that night," he said at a May press conference, adding that "when the time is right" he wants to go out and speak against domestic violence.

On July 24, the NFL suspended Rice for the first two games of the upcoming season and fined him one more game check, totaling a loss of more than $700,000 in salary.

In a statement handing down the punishment, Goodell said Rice's conduct "was unquestionably inconsistent with league policies and the standard of behavior required of everyone who is part of the NFL."

"The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game," the commissioner continued. "This is particularly true with respect to domestic violence and other forms of violence against women."

Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) complained to Goodell in a Thursday letter, though, that the punishment was a slap on the wrist.

"The decision to suspend Mr. Rice for a mere two games sends the inescapable message that the NFL does not take domestic or intimate-partner violence with the seriousness they deserve. As has been widely pointed out, the NFL has imposed longer suspensions for offenses such as non-violent breaches of banned-substances policies and breaking NCAA rules by selling memorabilia. Both on its own and in comparison to these other cases, Mr. Rice’s suspension reflects a disturbingly lenient, even cavalier attitude towards violence against women," they wrote.

"We therefore urge you to take two steps immediately. First, reconsider and revise Mr. Rice’s suspension to more adequately reflect the seriousness of his offense. We are also writing to the Baltimore Ravens to request that they impose additional discipline under their own authority, but it is imperative that the NFL itself makes clear that this conduct is truly unacceptable."

The senators also asked that the NFL "develop procedures to ensure that allegations and evidence of domestic violence are addressed appropriately."

"The pressing need for such procedures is clearly shown by a U-T San Diego study indicating that 21 of 32 NFL teams last year employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record, as well as by Bureau of Justice statistics indicating that one in four women will face domestic violence during her lifetime," they wrote. "We note that the NFL’s 'Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse' provides for a flat penalty of a four-game suspension (and up to a year’s suspension for repeated violations) for offenses that include 'fail[ure] to cooperate with testing, treatment, evaluation or other requirements [or] a Positive Test.' Similarly standardized procedures and levels of discipline should be applied to incidents of domestic violence, which by many measures constitutes a far more serious offense."