Revel Casino Elevator Fight Leads to New NFL Domestic Abuse Policy


Goodell Projects a No-Nonsense Persona, But Miscalculated Public Reaction to Rice’s Suspension

A fight which erupted in an elevator in the Revel Casino has led to a new and sterner domestic abuse policy by the National Football League. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a letter to all 32 NFL owners on Thursday, detailing a policy that could lead to a lifetime ban.

Under the new policy, 2-game suspensions for domestic violence are no longer an option. If a player is found guilty of domestic violence, he will be suspended for 6 games for his first offense. If a player has a second incident, he faces a lifetime ban from the NFL. Under such circumstances, his contract could be voided and he therefore would likely lose millions of dollars. Under the rules, the NFL would hear an appeal on the lifetime ban after one year of that ban has been served.

New NFL Domestic Violence Rules

The new NFL domestic violence policy also stipulates, “an employee was involved in a prior incident before joining the NFL; violence involving a weapon; choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman; or in the presence of a child.

The NFL’s more defined rules are a change of course after nearly two weeks of controversy stemming from the Ray Rice case. Rice was suspended for two NFL regular season games, which is a much lighter sentence that players have received for other infractions. Josh Gordon, the star receiver of the Cleveland Browns, received a 1-year sentence (16 games) for failing a drug test. Though Gordon had to have failed several tests to have received such a ban, fans and critics have pointed out that smoking marijuana is seen as an offense 8 times more serious than a world class male athlete beating a woman.

Revel Casino Altercation

The scandal stemmed from an incident last winter in the Revel Casino, which will close its doors for good on September 2. In February,  Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiance, Janay Palmer, got into an altercation on Revel Casino elevator. Palmer may have struck Rice, who proceeded to knock his fiance unconscious. Surveillance cameras showed Ray Rice dragging Palmer’s seemingly lifeless body off the elevator. Videos leaked onto the Internet and became a national scandal.

At the time of the incident, both Ray Rice and Janay Palmer were arrested. Charged on Palmer later were dropped. When Rice’s trial occurred, Palmer (now married to Rice) attended with her husband and vouched for his character. Because Ray Rice had no other priors, he was given community service and placed in a program that would allow him to avoid jail time. Ray Rice’s legal jeopardy was behind him, provided he could behave himself and complete the judge-ordered program.

Roger Goodell’s Suspension Announcement

In the NFL, off-the-field incidents often bring suspensions, which are meted out by Roger Goodell. Suspensions for offseason incidents tend to be handed out in the summer before the season, sometimes as late as training camp. Earlier this August, Roger Goodell announced Ray Rice would face a 2-game suspension. This ignited a firestorm of controversy in the print media, broadcast sports media, and social media. Goodell himself came under criticism–and the criticism did not abate after a couple of news cycles.

That led to the harsher new penalties, as well as a rare public admission by a league office of failure. Goodell wrote in his letter to the teams: “At times, however, and despite our best efforts, we fall short of our goals. We clearly did so in response to a recent incident of domestic violence. We allowed our standards to fall below where they should be and lost an important opportunity to emphasize our strong stance on a critical issue and the effective programs we have in place….I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.

NFL Players Association Faces a Dilemma

The new policy might face a challenge by the NFL Players Association, though such a stance might place the NFLPA in the path of criticism. The Players Association is supposed to protect its players from league policies that would harm the interests of its members. The new rules place NFL players in jeopardy of losing their livelihood, perhaps at the whim of the people in their lives. If a woman accuses a player of domestic violence, he has to prove his innocence or lose more than 1/3rd of his yearly salary. If a player with a domestic violence case in his past is accused, he faces the loss of his career–all at the word of another person.

Under most circumstances, the NFL Players Association would mount a rigorous challenge. Labor laws would be on the side of the NFLPA, because the NFL and its Players Association are supposed to collectively bargain rules like the ones Roger Goodell promulgated on Thursday. Under these circumstances, mounting a challenge to Goodell will be hard to do.

The Legacy of the Revel Casino Fight

Whatever happens, the incident in Revel Casino that night in February will have longstanding repercussions for the NFL, its players, and perhaps how domestic violence is seen by the American sports establishment.

Ray Rice will always be associated with this policy, so it will become part of his legacy. Players no doubt will have these disputes from time to time, so the rules will be invoked. And the NFL is the leading sports league in the United States, so its rules might influence the stance Major League Baseball, the NBA, and the NHL take.

Revel Casino Closing

Revel Casino’s is set to close in the next two weeks. The troubled casino has filed bankruptcy twice since its opening in April 2012. Though it is the largest and most lavish casino in Atlantic City, its financial troubles are untenable. No new ownership group emerged to take the casino out of bankruptcy, so Atlantic City loses one more source of revenue.