Before the start of the football season, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for two games for knocking out his then-fiancée (now wife) in an Atlantic City elevator. The suspension came not after Rice's actions came under legal scrutiny (he got a deferred deal from the same prosecutor and judge now trying to send single mother Shaneen Allen to jail for up to 11 years from bringing her legal firearm into New Jersey), but after TMZ released video of Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of the elevator. After video was released yesterday of the actual punch the knocked her out, the NFL moved to suspend Rice indefinitely. The Baltimore Ravens cut him.
As Andrew Sharp writes at Grantland, however, despite the NFL's new-found "zero tolerance" police for domestic violence, Rice is far from the only domestic abuser on NFL payroll, including players like the Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic violence, and San Francisco 49er Ray McDonald, booked on domestic violence charges less than 72 hours after the NFL's policy announcement. Both played this weekend. Sharp argues that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has to go, and it's hard to argue with that.
The NFL, especially under Goodell's leadership, has sought to present a hardline attitude toward misconduct. Despite marijuana being legalized in two of the states in which NFL players work, the league maintains a strict anti-drug policy. Cleveland Brown Josh Gordon was recently suspended for the season after testing positive for marijuana. No video necessary.
As the NFL is pressured by fans, other stakeholders, and members of the general public into taking a tougher stance on domestic violence, it will be interesting to see how much the players union resists punishment without "due process." But Ray Rice wasn't thrown in jail for knocking his wife unconscious—he won't even face charges thanks to government functionaries more interested in punishing mothers who exercise their Second Amenment rights—he was suspended indefinitely (and without pay) from the NFL. It's the NFL's prerogative to do so in order to protect or rehabilitate its image, even when it believes that prerogative require strict anti-marijuana policies (a growing majority of Americans supports marijuana legalization, millions have tried it).
The NFL is protecting its bottom line, as Rice's victim, now wife, Janay, noted in an Instagram post expressing dismay at the public outrage-fueled disciplinary measures taken against her husband when she wrote the NFL's move was informed by a desire to "gain ratings." The NFL's bottom line, in turn, is the players' bottom line, so the players union should also be interested in stricter measures against domestic abusers.
Public unions and local police departments have no such incentive. Absent black swan events like Ferguson, Missouri, police unions and cops can resist reforms even when a police department's image is at rock bottom and digging, as is the case in Albuquerque. Without the attention drawn to the St. Louis area by Ferguson, exposés like Radley Balko's at The Washington Post would be easier for policymakers to ignore. Ferguson's police department would not be seeing potential reforms. Because unlike the NFL and other private parties, the local government in Ferguson and everywhere in America has a guaranteed stream of revenue from taxpayers. Fans of the NFL, and the league's sponsors, could eventually tune out. As Grantland's Sharp noted, no one seemed to be talking about Sunday's games or even making fun of Tony Romo this week, it's been all about Ray Rice. That's bad for business, and means the league will respond and adapt to the public outrage and concerns. With a guaranteed stream of revenue, entrenched institutional privileges, and a culture that reveres them, police departments—whose members are two to four times more likely to abuse their spouses than the general public—won't have to respond or adapt to outrage and concerns, sometimes even when it reaches a Ferguson level. They just have to ride it out.