The Curious Case of Ray Rice: Domestic Violence in the NFL

by Amanda Admire and Christopher Vito

A viral video was released depicting NFL player Raymell M. Rice dragging his then fiancée Janay Palmer out of a Revel Casino elevator on February 15th, 2014 1. He was then charged with aggravated assault by the police in March of 2014, which is also the same month that Rice and Palmer married. The outcome of the incident initially sparked a two game suspension for the 2014 NFL season. Upon a second video release depicting Rice actually striking Palmer in the elevator2, Rice was suspended indefinitely and subsequently released by the Baltimore Ravens 3. Legally, Rice was granted a twelve month pretrial intervention as part of a deal with Atlantic County, New Jersey prosecutors. This would allow Rice, a first time offender, to have his record cleared if he follows protocol.

The NFL’s policy on domestic violence has been subject to strict scrutiny and criticism in lieu of the Ray Rice incident. Many organizations, such as the National Organization for Women, have called for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down following the labeled “debacle.” As a response the NFL has revised its domestic violence policy stating that first time offenders will receive a six game ban without pay, and second time offenders will receive a lifetime ban from the NFL. Concordantly, Goodell sent a letter to each NFL owner notifying them of six actions to reinforce and enhance their new policies 4. The NFL also implemented a “NO MORE” Public Service Announcement aimed at bringing attention to domestic violence and sexual assault.

The salience of domestic violence in the NFL was highlighted by a New York Times article depicting the types of crimes reported by the news media from 2000 to 2014 5. Using a record maintained by USA Today, the NY Times finds that there were 713 arrests of NFL players over the 14 year period, of which 85 were domestic violence related 6. Based on their report, they find that on average 1 in 40 NFL players will be arrested in a given year, with about 12% of them being domestic violence violations 7. The take home message for readers of this article is that domestic violence has been a recurrent problem long before the Ray Rice incident.

Following the aftermath of Rice’s incident, the NFL had numerous questions to answer regarding current NFL players. For example, Carolina Panther Defensive End Greg Hardy was accused of domestic violence on May 13, 2014 after reports that he beat and verbally assaulted his then girlfriend Nicole Holder 8. After being convicted he was deactivated for week 2 but still was paid a full salary for the rest of the season before the case was eventually dismissed. San Francisco 49er Defensive Tackle Ray McDonald was arrested on August 31, 2014 and was accused of domestic violence charges although no formal charges were filed 9. He was subsequently released from the 49ers after another being suspected of another incident of domestic violence.

Moreover, news outlets have shown that this is not an isolated incident but rather a recurring theme amongst professional male athletes. In the MLB, former Minnesota Twin, New York Yankee, and Kansas City Royal Chuck Knoblauch was arrested the same month (July 2014) that evidence was released concerning Ray Rice’s case 10; despite garnering little to no mainstream media attention. Additionally, UFC star War Machine (real name Jonathan Koppenhaver) was arrested following an August 8, 2014 attack on adult film actress Christy Mack 11. He was formally charged with felony battery, assault and coercion charges and is currently serving time in prison.

The NFL’s NO MORE campaign and major media outlets address important issues such as domestic violence, institutional rule changes, and women’s rights. However, the NFL is still a for-profit corporation with billions of dollars on the line concerned by stakeholders, investors, and its employees—which are male-dominated. All institutional policies are thus garnered with a male-perspective in mind, and are enforced by males themselves. For example, a four game suspension was given to Seattle Seahawks cornerback AJ Jefferson for domestic violence. This suspension went relatively unnoticed by mass media and the public, and was not highly scrutinized like the Rice case. It was only when a superstar, Rice, was convicted with video evidence that there was public outcry for the lack of action against domestic violence perpetrators.

Here, it becomes obvious that only until the problem reaches a precipice wherein the NFL is facing heightened scrutiny will it take action to appease the public. Otherwise, it is business as usual—making money and maintaining a profitable name brand—that are important to those in power. Now that some time has passed and free agency is set to begin, we wonder if players such as Ray Rice will get a second opportunity in the NFL despite their troubles with domestic violence. We suspect that the NFL will continue to act in concordance with the norms of mainstream society in its reaction to domestic violence—specifically by ignoring it.



  1. “Ray Rice – dragging unconscious fiancée…after alleged mutual attack,” TMZ,
  2. “Ray Rice knocks out his fiancée,” TMZ,
  3. Greg Rosenthal, “Ray Rice released by the Ravens, indefinitely suspended,” NFL, September 8, 2014.
  4. Judy Battista, “Roger Goodell, NFL rightly correct course with change in policy,” NFL, August 28, 2014.
  5. Neil Irwin, “What the numbers show about N.F.L. player arrests,” New York Times, September 12, 2014,
  6. ibid
  7. ibid
  8. Mike Coppinger, “Greg Hardy found guilty of assault on a female,” NFL, July 15, 2014.
  9. Dan Hanzus, “Ray McDonald arrested on domestic violence charges,” NFL, August 31, 2014.
  10. “Retired MLB player Chuck Knoblauch accused of domestic violence,” ABC, July 24, 2014.
  11. “MMA Fighter War Machine extradited over domestic violence charges,” Huffington Post, August 30, 2014.



Amanda Admire and Christopher Vito are PhD candidates at the University of California, Riverside. Amanda’s research interests include gender studies, criminology and socio-legal studies, intimate partner violence, and immigration. Chris’ research interests include hip-hop culture, political economy and global social change, and gender studies.

Categories: Rethinking The World

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