Merlene Davis: The judicial system should have been tougher on the NFL's Ray Rice


When my son played football, starting when he was 8 years old, it was not uncommon to hear coaches shaming players by saying they were playing like girls.

Demeaning women continued throughout his sporting career, mostly from coaches.

So when I heard all the uproar about the two-game suspension and $58,000 fine handed down to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because of domestic violence, I was surprised.

The NFL did more than our judicial system did in this case.

Rice was charged with third-degree aggravated assault when, on Feb. 15, he was seen on surveillance camera dragging his then fiancé Janay Palmer out of an elevator that she had walked into on her own two feet.

According to police, Rice knocked her out after she spit on him.

Rice was indicted but agreed to enter a diversion program to avoid jail time. After a while, the charge will be expunged from his record.

That was our judicial system's decision. I didn't see any comments from anyone about it.

The uproar came with the NFL meting out "only" a two-game suspension and fine for Rice. Seems society wants our workplaces to deliver harsher punishment than our justice system.

If our courts had dealt with him more severely, we wouldn't be criticizing the commissioner dishing out what folks are calling a slap on Rice's wrist. Rice would still be behind bars and there would be far more games missed than two.

I'm not letting the NFL off the hook, mind you. There is a big house to clean in a league where domestic violence doesn't seem to have great importance.

My point is, outside of women's groups and agencies that have to help the women and children scarred mentally and physically by abusers, where is the outpouring of indignation that should be focused on our laws and enforcement?

Palmer is now Rice's wife. She married him a day after he was indicted, days after she was dragged limp from an elevator. Palmer had been charged with assault as well, but charges against her were dropped.

Rice apologized and our judicial system said a diversion program was sufficient punishment.

The court said hitting a woman is not OK, but it was Rice's first offense, so we'll go easier on him than his fist did with Palmer.

After all, she spit on him. She caused it, just like women wearing short skirts cause their own rapes, right?

Come on, people. We should be past this.

It is never OK, first, fourth or 40th time, for a man to hit a woman. And it is not only women who should be shouting this, but also men.

I've seen some public service ads and posters urging men to stand up against domestic violence. There are men out there trying to do just that.

And, hopefully, coaches are no longer demeaning a gender to get their male players to perform better. If they are, it is time for the men, the fathers who received that type of motivation as boys, to tell coaches to find a better way for their sons. Demeaning another gender is not acceptable.

When women are demeaned they become less human. When they are made to be less human, any negative behavior or language about them or toward them, no matter how traditional or violent, becomes acceptable.

With dehumanization, a woman wearing a short skirt is asking to be raped. Hitting a woman, instead of walking away, serves her right.

The NFL can't be expected to correct years of wrongs alone. If the court thought Rice's actions deserved only diversion, there should be a louder outcry against the court.

"It is disappointing that I will not be with my teammates for the first two games of the season, but that's my fault," Rice said in a statement. "As I said earlier, I failed in many ways. But, Janay and I have learned from this. We have become better as a couple and as parents. I am better because of everything we have experienced since that night. The counseling has helped tremendously."

I hope so.

And I think if we are going to hold the NFL more accountable than our judicial system, then all workplaces should be held to the same standard.

We should be outraged when women in factories or in office buildings receive less pay than their male counterparts. That's dehumanizing.

We should be questioning why there aren't more women in top positions in businesses throughout this country. That's demeaning.

And we should be enraged that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled businesses can decide not to cover birth control for women, the only gender that can reproduce. That's just wrong.

The NFL has a problem it must deal with, true enough. But so does our judicial system. And so do all of us who should be holding both accountable.