After a challenging offseason, the start of the NFL season was supposed to shift the focus back onto the field, but the morning after the season’s first Sunday, the NFL was back in the news for something non-game related. Running back Ray Rice was cut by the Baltimore Ravens Monday and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after TMZ Sports released a video of him hitting his then-fiance (now wife) Janay Palmer in February.
The grainy video (warning: graphic images) shows Rice and Palmer scuffling in an Atlantic City casino elevator before Rice knocks her to the floor with a punch to the face. An earlier TMZ video, released in February, showed Rice dragging Palmer from the elevator. (The Rice story is an example of the kind of big-game hunting TMZ founder Harvey Levin promised when launching a sports division last year.)
After the video came out on Monday, the Ravens said they had never seen the video before. A few hours later, they announced on Twitter that they were terminating Rice’s contract.
During CBS’ Thursday Night Football conference call on Monday, network sports chief Sean McManus interrupted to announced that Rice had been released. Even before that news, McManus and Brian Rolapp, the COO of NFL Media, had said that they would cover the story on CBS and the NFL Network Thursday night when the Ravens face the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In May, Rice, 27, was charged with felony aggravated assault for the incident, but went into a pretrial intervention program to avoid jail time. The NFL — reportedly not having seen the video — suspended Rice for two games in July. That punishment was widely criticized for being too lenient. On Aug. 28, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced a new policy for domestic violence offenders, punishing first-time offenders with a six-game penalty and second-time offenders with at least a year.
In addition to the Rice story, the NFL has faced several other threats in recent months, with the outcry to the increasing risk of concussions in the game, negotiations for HGH testing and the backlash to Washington’s continued use of the name “Redskins.” Even members of the media known for their neutrality have been critical of the NFL; in fact, before news of Rice’s release and suspension broke, ESPN’s Adam Schefter went on SportsCenter Monday and called the Ray Rice situation “arguably the biggest black eye the league has ever had.”