By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – As the NFL hands out multiple-game suspensions left and right for failed drug tests, Ray Rice participates in OTAs with the Baltimore Ravens almost as if the videotaped altercation that left his fiancée knocked out cold never happened.
To many outside the insulated world of professional sports, the discrepancy is startling. Three players have already been suspended a total of 26 games for the 2014 season for testing positive for drugs, but no punishment has yet been announced for Rice.
Players, however, do not seem to see a problem with the NFL’s practice of punishing drug use more severely than conduct issues, even ones as serious as domestic violence.
“Honestly, assault towards anyone is – really doesn’t affect this game,” Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate said. “It’s not affecting how I play on the field. I think drugs have a direct correlation on how you perform and if you have an advantage or disadvantage on the field.
“What you do outside of football is your business,” Tate added. “Now I don’t agree with assault or any of those other illegal actions, but it is what it is. That’s not football-related.”
The case of Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington is perhaps one of the clearest examples of the NFL’s priority on punishing players for what they put in their body rather than for what they do away from football. Washington allegedly assaulted his ex-girlfriend in May 2013, but he played every game that season — except for four missed due to a positive drug test.
He pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge in March, but his suspension this season is evidently solely for another failed drug test. More than a year after the incident, the league is reportedly still considering whether Washington merits additional punishment under the league’s personal conduct policy.
Tate said he did not know much about Washington’s case, but he offered a general – and somewhat surprisingly candid – perspective about what he called a very unfortunate situation.
“I’m sure there is another side of the story,” Tate said. “That’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my years, that there is his side of the story, her side of the story and the actual truth. It’s unfair because we’re under a microscope, but it is what it is. It’s what we signed up for.”
Many people, including players interviewed for this story, believe that a man should never hit a woman, whether she hits him first or not. While Tate seemed to agree with that idea, he said abiding by that basic rule is not necessarily as easy as it sounds.
“It’s really tough,” Tate said. “For one, you’ve got to try to surround yourself around better people than that, who respect you and respect themselves, really, but I can only imagine it’s very tough to be hit by a female. I’m sure he probably said, ‘Stop,’ I’m sure she didn’t. She didn’t just hit him and then guys just hit them back. I’m sure they asked for you to stop or they try to leave, and women get in front of the door, so you really have no choice – you do have a choice still, but you try to – I would like to think that we understand the laws in America, and I would like to think that no man is just going to be hit and then all of a sudden hit them back. I would like to think that guys have tried to step away from the situation, guys have tried to remove themselves and at some point, one split-second it just turns, it goes south.”
As far as Rice specifically, Tate hopes the NFL will consider Rice’s history as it decides how to penalize him. He knows Ray personally, he said, because the players share an agency. Tate says that incident is not representative of Rice as a person.
“He’s a great guy, a guy with high character,” Tate said. “It’s unfortunate that that night happened. I’m sure if he could do it all over again, it wouldn’t even come that close, and it’s unfortunate that one incident – he’s done many, many great things in this community, in this league, he’s won a championship, he’s a great person, always smiling. It’s kind of sad that that one incident is what people are going to remember forever. Like I said, we’re under a microscope, and you’ve just got to be smarter. As far as a punishment, I’m sure NFL, NFLPA will look over it thoroughly and decide what they think is best.
“I’m praying that they also look at what he’s done for the NFL previously and for his family and for this league.”
Tate is not the only one who thinks the NFL is right to penalize players more based on offenses that could affect the actual game. Former Lions defensive end Lawrence Jackson, a first-round pick out of USC, said the difference in punishment does not make the NFL look bad. The punishments for drug offenses are largely predetermined and thus easy for the league to dole out, he said. For domestic violence, the boundaries and punishments are not so clear.
“It’s cut and dried that if you get caught with X amount of stuff, or if you get caught with something in your system, you’re going to get X amount of punishment. Domestic violence isn’t drawn up that way,” Jackson said. “Say a guy gets suspended for a year and you find out that you suspended a guy that actually wasn’t guilty of what was going on. It’s just a slippery slope when you get into that because each case is different with domestic violence. With PEDs, you get your positive test, you get flagged, you have an opportunity to clear your name, but you violated the rules, so you have to get the mandated punishment, and that’s different for domestic violence.”
For many of the instances of domestic violence listed in the NFL arrests database of USA Today, the resolution includes counseling or classes for the player in question.
Lions center Dominic Raiola said he thinks that sort of lesser punishment for conduct violations is sufficient.
“There’s a lot of things that they’ll make us do, classes,” Raiola said. “If you get in trouble, you get disciplined.
“What you put in your body, obviously they keep a close watch on that,” Raiola added. “What you do off the field, like I said, they let the legal process go through.”