It’s one thing for the NFL to leak to the media an intention to increase the penalties for domestic violence, the clearest sign yet that the league realizes that running back Ray Rice’s suspension was too light. It’s quite another for the NFL to implement that change unilaterally.
Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL has not yet raised the possibility of enhanced domestic violence penalties with the players’ union. A new approach to domestic violence arguably would be subject to the mandatory duty to bargain with the NFLPA, requiring the NFL to seek an agreement via the push-and-pull of negotiations. If the NFL wants the right to impose greater discipline on players for domestic violence, it may need to be willing to give something up.
The league’s position probably would be that, because it already possesses the ability to determine player punishment and exclusively resolve any appeal under the personal-conduct policy, the NFL can do whatever it wants regarding discipline. The smarter play, from a pure labor relations standpoint, would have been to say nothing and to simply impose a greater penalties the next time domestic violence happens.
But silence wouldn’t have moved the P.R. needle, either as it relates to the still-smoldering criticism of the Rice punishment or as it meshes with the looming Josh Gordon suspension, which could be announced at any time and perhaps will come late tomorrow afternoon as part of a pre-weekend bad news dump. Inevitably, the media and many fans will react to a one-year suspension for Gordon by comparing it to the punishment levied against Rice, who arguably did something far worse that chronically smoke a substance now legal in two of the 22 states where the NFL does business. The notion that the next guy who commits domestic violence will receive a far greater punishment takes some of the sting out of the glaring discrepancy between Rice and Gordon.