Collegiate Programs Can Learn From the NFL’s Ray Rice Situation

LaMichael James got off much too easy after assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

Note: This article contains graphic information regarding domestic violence. Read at your own discretion.

An already nasty situation grew worse on Monday when new video surfaced of now former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his wife Janay in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

If you’ve been unfortunate enough to see the video, you know how disturbing Rice’s actions are. You also know that the NFL, particularly Commissioner Roger Goodell, couldn’t have handled this situation any worse. The initial punishment levied by the league was a laughable two-game ban. It wasn’t until the new video emerged that Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely from the NFL. Goodell’s reputation around the league wasn’t great prior to this incident, and it certainly hasn’t improved as a result of his latest actions.

Chip Kelly was known for punishing players lightly while at Oregon, including a domestic violence case.

Photo by Gary Breedlove

Chip Kelly has been criticized for punishing players unevenly while at Oregon.

But Goodell’s job security isn’t the issue worthy of discussion. By initially trying to sweep this incident under the rug, the NFL as a whole sent a very clear message that they don’t consider domestic violence a serious offense. A change in how the NFL handles domestic violence is imminent, yet only because the public outrage has reached a tipping point. Not exactly something to be proud of.

Collegiate athletic programs are no stranger to domestic violence, either. According to the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes, a non-profit organization aiming to eliminate off the field violence, male student-athletes make up 3.3% of the United States population, yet they represent 35% of domestic violence perpetrators. It’s tough to pinpoint exactly why the number is so high, but it’s proof that collegiate athletic programs need to be more diligent in educating and increasing awareness among student athletes, particularly males.

In early August, Alabama football head coach Nick Saban brought in a guest speaker to the team’s preseason camp to address domestic violence. At the time, Rice was set to return to the Ravens in Week 3, yet Saban still set a great example by choosing not to ignore an increasingly serious issue in sports.

However, awareness alone will not eliminate the issue. The disciplinary system in college athletics is more inconsistent than in professional leagues because many punishments are handed out by the particular university where the incident occurs rather than the NCAA. Many administrators and coaches have gone soft on athletes as a result.

South Carolina football head coach Steve Spurrier does not fall into this category. “I’ve had a rule ever since I’ve been here that if you ever hit a girl, you’re not going to play on our team,” Spurrier said earlier this week. “I can’t understand why every coach doesn’t have that rule and why every company doesn’t have that rule for their employees.”

Weighing in on the Rice situation this week, Steve Spurrier made clear his "zero tolerance" policy regarding domestic violence

From Video

Weighing in on the Rice situation this week, Steve Spurrier made clear his “zero tolerance” policy regarding domestic violence.

Thankfully, Mark Helfrich has yet to handle a similar issue with one of his players. If it were to happen though, I would like to think he would come down harsher on the offender based on the mistakes made by his predecessors.

I’ve heard several NFL players and analysts say during this week’s media coverage of the Rice fallout that, as gruesome as the latest video is, it put a face on domestic violence in a way that people will better understand the severity of the issue, and maybe it will.

It’s one thing to talk about domestic violence, but to see it firsthand makes the issue feel more real. If any good comes from Rice’s situation, it will be looked back upon as a major turning point in how sports organizations in America, both professional and amateur, punish offenders of domestic violence. Let’s hope that’s the case.


Top Photo Screenshot from “Ray Rice Apology” Video

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Will Denner

Will Denner

Will Denner is a junior at the University of Oregon majoring in journalism with a focus in electronic media. Since he worked for The Oregonian as a freelance sports reporter, he has known for sure that he wants to pursue a career in the field of journalism. Will is most passionate and knowledgeable about Oregon Ducks football, basketball and softball. You can follow him on Twitter @will_denner