Ray Rice’s suspension in context

In news today that was mostly (but not totally) condemned as tone-deaf and inappropriate, the NFL suspended Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for two games, but no preseason games, practices, or training camp activities, and docked his pay for a third game, for beating his then-fiancee, Janay, until she was unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator at an Atlantic City casino this February. That the NFL has a serious domestic abuse problem became frighteningly clear at Rice’s post-beating press conference (which I unfortunately had to highlight here). Today’s mild sanction did nothing to change that nauseating narrative.

Deadspin put together a list of “other notable NFL suspensions,” which offers some context for Rice’s two-game sanction. If you want to read the list, with all of the details and circumstances, it’s available here. I’ve attempted to distill the list to the basics below.   

Lifetime Ban

  • Stanley Wilson, for cocaine abuse, following two prior full-season suspensions for the same activity. 1989.

Indefinite Suspension

  • Michael Vick, for pleading guilty to involvement in dog-fighting ring. 2007.
    • Effective suspension: two games (reinstatement, 2009).

Full Season

  • Adam Jones, for numerous police run-ins, including being present at a strip club where a shooting occurred. 2007.
  • Donte Stallworth, for pleading guilty to DUI manslaughter. 2009.
  • Jonathan Vilma, for participation in the New Orleans Saints bounty program. 2012.
    • Effective suspension: five games (suspension overturned, 2012).
  • Daryl Washington, for second positive drug test. 2014.

Eight Games

  • Chris Henry, for violation of personal conduct policy, following prior two-game suspension for positive marijuana test, and other arrests for weapons, DUI, and serving alcohol to minors. 2007.
  • Tank Johnson, for possessing unregistered firearms and violating probation. 2007.
  • Anthony Hargrove, for participation in Saints bounty program. 2012.
  • Justin Blackmon, for second violation of substance abuse policy (likely marijuana). 2013.

Six Games

  •  Ben Roethlisberger, for being accused (charges dropped) of sexual assault. 2010.
    • Effective suspension: four games (reduced, 2010).

Five Games

Four Games

  • Plaxico Burress, for shooting himself in the leg. 2008.
  • Will Smith, for participation in Saints bounty program. 2012.
    • Effective suspension: zero games (suspension overturned, 2012).
  • LaVon Brazill, for positive drug (likely marijuana) test. 2014.

Three Games

  • Vincent Jackson, for second DUI arrest in three years. 2010.
  • Cedric Benson, for arrest on misdemeanor assault charges (bar fight). 2011.
    • Effective suspension: one game (reduced, 2011).
  • Scott Fujita, for participation in Saints bounty program. 2012.
  • Aaron Berry, for two arrests– pointing a gun at people in public and DUI– in one month. 2012.

Two Games

  • Charles Martin, for a hard tackle on a quarterback during a game. 1986.
  • Ndamukong Suh, for stomping on a player’s arm during a game. 2011.
  • Brandon Meriweather, for multiple head-to-head hits during games. 2013.
  • Ray Rice, for domestic abuse. 2014.

The Sports On Earth folks have put together essentially a (more complete) graphical expression of the above:

Comparative analyses like these aren’t fun, but the variable severity of sanctions is appropriately taken as an indication of the views and opinions of the sanctioning body. Here, it constitutes evidence of priorities that appear, no matter how you present them, wholly out of order.


A case study in comparative NFL politics


5 thoughts on “Ray Rice’s suspension in context

  1. Alec,

    Wow. This was riveting to me. I very much appreciated what you had to say and then I read the article that you included and some of the responses from others. I guess I was not as aware of the Rice situation, but this recent blog of yours was really eye-opening. People have so much anger in them that it is truly frightening. You did a beautiful job in your assessment of the NFL’s reactions to this kind of issue with their players. Bravo.


  2. You probably know more about the stated thought process than I do (nothing), but it would appear based on the massive variability I have seen in the past (mostly Suh related) is that punishments seem to be handed out in a vacuum. That is, the NFL seems to ask, “How much should we punish this player for this action?” The reason why this seems like a problem to me is that no one knows the value of these punishments. A year in prison or a fine on a regular person is something we can pretend to imagine, but a fine on a football player who makes millions or a suspension for N games is something that I have a hard time relating to. So the only thing I can do is what everyone does – which is to look up what other incidents led to similar punishments. And apparently we have learned that being caught with drugs twice is eight times worse than the case at hand.

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