Scott Michaux

Sports columnist for The Augusta Chronicle. | ScottMichaux.com

NFL sends wrong message with Ray Rice punishment

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Fortunately for Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice, he didn’t kick his dog or shoot himself in the leg or he might have really drawn the ire of the league office.

Baltimore's Ray Rice was suspended two games by the NFL for an aggrevated assault charge. The penalty was seen as weak by many.  PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
PATRICK SEMANSKY/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Baltimore's Ray Rice was suspended two games by the NFL for an aggrevated assault charge. The penalty was seen as weak by many.

Rice received only a two-game suspension (plus a three-game salary fine) from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his aggravated assault charge for knocking his fiancée unconscious. Video showed Rice dragging Janay Palmer (now his wife) from an elevator.

Goodell isn’t exactly sending a strong message that domestic abuse will not be tolerated.

The two-game suspension equals what Michael Vick ultimately received for his dog-fighting operation. Vick, however, also served 19 months in prison, so the two games on top of that was just an added bonus.

Of course none of it compares to how the league feels about abusing other NFL players – including yourself. Plaxico Burress was once suspended four games for accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub. Saints players (and a head coach) were suspended for a full season for participating or condoning a “bounty” program encouraging hard hits.

Cleveland receiver Josh Gordon is facing a full-season suspension for testing positive for marijuana, a third-time violation of the league’s substance-abuse policies.

“We believe that discipline we issued is appropriate,” said Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president of labor policy, on a radio show. “It is multiple games and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I think that’s fair to say that doesn’t reflect that you condone the behavior.”

It’s disheartening, however, how the NFL typically shrugs off domestic abuse. I’ve covered teams where players were ostracized for “quitting” on teammates and many have worried that having an openly gay player on a roster would be a “distraction” in the locker room.

But coaches, players and fans never seem to hold it against athletes who would willingly strike a woman. Rice was heartily cheered by Ravens fans during open training camp practices Tuesday. Clearly all that matters is what he does on the field and not off it.

This is a dark blemish on the league that will only improve when the commissioner starts treating it more seriously than relative wrist slaps.

UGA BASHING: It’s a popular preseason drill to criticize the Bulldogs for its seemingly inevitable off-season infractions that typically cost a player or two some early-season game eligibility. A particularly rough week in July caused Georgia to dismiss a defensive lineman for domestic battery charges and suspend linebacker Davin Bellamy for a couple of games for a DUI charge.

Surely South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is having a chuckle. Of course, the Gamecocks’ offensive lineman Na’Ty Rodgers would be automatically ineligible for two games at Georgia for his March underage drinking and disorderly conduct charges. In Columbia, however, he’s still fighting for the starting job in the opener against Texas A&M because the Gamecocks don’t follow the same mandatory punishment guidelines as Georgia.

The Bulldogs certainly had a tough off-season with several prominent players transferring to other major colleges after getting in the doghouse at Georgia. Critics like to jump on Mark Richt for “recruiting bad kids,” as if the players those recruits weren’t offered scholarships at other schools.

It might surprise people to know that 12 Southeastern Conference schools had players arrested since last season with violations as severe as sexual battery, aggravated robbery and residential burglary. Texas A&M led the way in the post-Johnny Manziel era with 10 criminal player incidents.

Congratulations to Vanderbilt and Arkansas for quiet off-seasons.

SLAM DUNK?: The bandwagon of predictors that Rory McIlroy is a lock to win a future Masters Tournament and complete his career grand slam is a crowded one. Some are convinced it will happen as soon as April and others are sure no later than 2016.

When you’ve won the other three majors by age 25 and all in convincing fashion, it’s a simple narrative to write out.

Of course, we were all pretty certain that Greg Norman would win a green jacket, and that sure-thing didn’t quite play out as ordained.

McIlroy obviously has a game that’s well-suited for Augusta National and has proven capable of contending there. But he’s also developed some significant Masters scar tissue since his famous 2011 meltdown – especially on the greens – and has yet to walk away from the season’s first major with four clean rounds.

Of the five men with career slams, only Gene Sarazen completed the cycle at Augusta. That was in 1935, when the Masters Tournament wasn’t even the Masters. Sarazen’s wins at the U.S. and British Opens and the PGA all came before Augusta National even existed as a golf course, so it’s safe to say he never fielded any questions about completing the “career slam” until about 25 years after he’d already done it. That tends to take the pressure off.

McIlroy, however, knew what would be in store for him next spring even before he prevailed at Hoylake.

“It would mean a lot of hype going into Augusta next year,” he said with a laugh on the eve of his claret jug win.

The only comparable hype to what McIlroy will face when he comes to Augusta is 2001, when Tiger Woods completed his sweep of all four majors simultaneously under intense media scrutiny. McIlroy, however, won’t have the same deadline constraints over the next two decades. We’ll see.

LEG UP ON GUY: To get in the mood for Saturday’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction of Ray Guy, the NFL Network will premiere a documentary on the former Thomson legend at 9 p.m. Thursday

The hour-long show, entitled The Specialist: Ray Guy, highlights his road to the Hall of Fame from Thomson through Southern Miss to the Raiders. Producers spent two days at The Brickyard in Thomson in June interviewing friends, former coaches and teammates of Guy for the show.

The documentary will be rebroadcast Friday and Saturday at midnight and Sunday at 8 p.m. on the NFL Network.


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