When I saw the video of Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend (now wife) out of a hotel elevator, my immediate reaction was that Rice would face significant legal issues as well as a lengthy suspension from the NFL.

Turns out I was wrong on both counts. Rice pleaded no contest to one charge of aggravated assault, and entered into a pretrial intervention program that could result in that count being cleared from his record. And, as we know, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for only two games.

Like many people, I was surprised and disappointed at the two-game suspension. After all, a few years ago Goodell suspended Terrell Pryor for five games so that Pryor, by leaving Ohio State early for the NFL, could not avoid serving his NCAA-mandated five-game penalty for NCAA violations that reportedly netted Pryor about $2,500. Let’s think about that for a minute. Pryor sold sports paraphernalia and got some free tattoos. Rice seriously harmed another human being. Which is more serious?

This Sports Illustrated article points out that Rice got off easier for allegedly knocking a woman unconscious than if he had been busted for testing positive for Adderall, which carries a four-game suspension.

At first I wasn’t going to write about Rice’s suspension because there has been so much public outcry about it. This article is typical of the reaction to the suspension. Then I thought there must be some rationale for what seems like a clearly inadequate approach to domestic violence, and I found this article, speculating that Commissioner Goodell focused on the following factors: this was Rice’s first violation of any NFL policy, he sought counseling immediately, he was not convicted of a crime in conjunction with this incident, and he has been very active in charity and volunteer work for the Ravens.

It also has been reported that the victim, Janay Palmer, made an impassioned and effective plea to Goodell for leniency, noting that there has been no other example of domestic abuse in the couple’s relationship before or after the event in question. In fact, Palmer also apologized “for her role” in the incident, which is interesting. One wonders what she could do that would somehow excuse Rice for doing whatever he did to render her unconscious. I have not read anything indicating that Rice somehow acted reasonably in self-defense.

Certainly, reasonable people may differ in good faith as to the amount of mitigation the factors listed above should play in a situation involving significant physical violence by a professional football player against a woman, and I would be interested in your reactions to Goodell’s decision. From my perspective, this is a difficult penalty to support.

I do understand that it’s easy for the rest of us to pile on and say how Rice’s behavior is indefensible. We’ve all made mistakes, although one would hope our mistakes have not been as physically harmful to another person as Rice’s were to Palmer. But still, I think the NFL missed a real opportunity in this case to make a strong statement about violence against women.

I understand the thinking that a first-time offender should receive a lesser penalty than a repeat offender. I’ll acknowledge that point, but that, to me, is not the issue. The issue is how seriously the NFL, and society, should treat domestic abuse. I don’t understand a system that would punish a player for smoking dope more seriously than it punishes a player for knocking a woman unconscious. Even if that player is a first-time offender. Even if that player is loved in the community. Even if that player sought counseling immediately. Even if the victim pleads for leniency.

I doubt there is any deterrent value in a two-game suspension, but then, I have read that those who engage in violent physical outbursts typically are not restrained by thoughts of potential penalties. And, it is true that Rice will lose several hundreds of thousands of dollars as a result of his suspension. Still, I think the NFL dropped the ball on this one.

What do you think? I welcome your thoughts. Thanks.