- Jamison Hensley, ESPN Staff Writer
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There has been sweeping criticism since news broke Thursday that Baltimore running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games after he allegedly knocked his then-fiancée unconscious this offseason.
Two games? That amounts to losing Rice to a tweaked hamstring.
But the sole argument shouldn't be that the NFL was too easy on Rice. It's also a fact the league hasn't been harsher on domestic violence issues in the past.
Rice's punishment only falls in line with the league's disappointing track record on this issue.
There's a precedent for first-time offenders like Rice. Many first-time offenders don't get a suspension of any kind, and many get suspended for less than a month if they are disciplined. In the past three years, only 12 players received more than four-game suspensions, and all violated league policy multiple times.
What worked in Rice's favor is Janay Palmer standing by his side in court, at his debacle of a news conference in May and at his face-to-face meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Palmer even married Rice a day after he was indicted by a grand jury in March on third-degree aggravated assault.
This isn't being an apologist for Rice. Goodell simply followed form.
"I believe that you are sincere in your desire to learn from this matter and move forward toward a healthy relationship and successful career," Goodell said in a letter to Rice.
Goodell certainly could have delivered a stronger message with Rice and made an example out of him for the rest of the league's players. But if Goodell had suspended Rice for eight games or the entire season, it would be difficult to see that punishment sticking.
Rice would have undoubtedly appealed a harsher suspension because no first-time offender of domestic violence has ever received such a punishment. He could cite two former Ravens, Fabian Washington and Cary Williams, who were suspended a combined three games after being charged with domestic violence. Rice could point to the discipline handed out to wide receiver Brandon Marshall in 2008, when the Denver Broncos wide receiver was suspended only three games (later reduced to one) after multiple domestic disputes.
Rice's punishment goes beyond the suspension and fine. It includes the tarnishing of his reputation. For six years, he had worked hard to build his character in the locker room and the community, becoming the spokesman for the area's anti-bullying campaign.
Now, Rice will be forever linked to domestic violence. Opposing fans won't let him forget about it whenever he walks into another team's stadium. Even fans in Baltimore will have trouble looking at Rice without thinking about that TMZ video in which he dragged Janay out of the elevator.
"As I said earlier, I failed in many ways," Rice said in a statement. “My goal is to earn back the trust of the people, especially the children, I let down because of this incident. I am a role model and I take that responsibility seriously. My actions going forward will show that.”
Domestic violence isn't isolated to the Ravens or Rice. According to the San Diego Union-Tribune database, 21 of 32 teams last year had a player on their roster who had a domestic or sexual violence charge on their record.
Perhaps until the league changes its sorry track record on this issue, it will continue to be a widespread problem in the league.
1dJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com
2dJason Gibbs, Special to ESPN.com