Ever since TMZ released video of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiance Janay Palmer in a casino elevator, the broader issue of domestic violence in sports has dominated headlines. How should teams and leagues respond? What can they actually do about the problem?
To start, they can follow the NBA's example.
Consider Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence and malicious destruction of property charges last month, just hours before his team's season-opening game. Taylor shoved his girlfriend in a East Lansing, Michigan hotel hallway, slapped her arm, and punched a hole in the wall. His case had all the ingredients for another sports PR disaster. But unlike the NFL—which botched the Rice case in spectacular fashion, from a flip-flopping suspension to a much-ridiculed Roger Goodell press conference to an ongoing "independent" investigation headed by former FBI Director Robert Muller—the NBA got things right on its first try.
Following a thorough investigation, the NBA suspended Taylor for 24 games without pay. League commissioner Adam Silver's statement on the matter was unflinching: "ln addition to its profound impact on victims, domestic violence committed by any member of the NBA family causes damage to the league and undermines the public's confidence in it."
Through its strong rhetoric, the NBA mirrored the NFL's tough talk on domestic violence; through its actual action, the NBA showed the NFL how a professional league run by mature, logical adults should follow through. First, the league launched its own investigation of Taylor's case, independent of law enforcement—and in stark contrast to Goodell's boneheaded interviewing of Rice and Palmer at the same time in the same room—a major no-no when it comes to domestic violence inquiries—the NBA had the good sense to conduct separate interviews with all the parties involved.
Second, by naming all the lawyers, domestic violence experts, and members from within the league involved in assessing Taylor's case, Silver made sure he was completely transparent about his decision-making process. Moreover, he didn't alter Taylor's suspension after announcing it, a sharp contrast to Goodell extending Rice's two-game ban to an indefinite suspension after TMZ's video release, a move that prompted widespread criticism of the NFL for making up arbitrary punishments solely for public relations purposes.
By handing Taylor one of the longest suspensions in league history, Silver did expose the NBA to accusations of being unfair and excessively harsh. The suspension will cost Taylor almost $200,000 of his $915,000 salary and force him to miss 29 percent of the season. That was too heavy-handed for National Basketball Players's Association (NBPA) head Michele Roberts, who last week issued a statement calling Taylor's punishment "excessive, without precedent" and a violation of the league's Collective Bargaining Agreement, given that "the CBA contemplates a minimum 10-game suspension in any case involving a conviction for a violent felony, including domestic violence" and that Taylor only was charged with a misdemeanor that likely will be dismissed following probation.
So far, Silver has stuck to his guns. In fact, he seemed to anticipate Roberts' criticism when announcing Taylor's suspension:
"While the suspension is significantly longer than prior suspensions for incidents of domestic violence by NBA players, it is appropriate in light of Mr. Taylor's conduct, the need to deter similar conduct going forward, and the evolving social consensus—with which we fully concur—that professional sports leagues like the NBA must respond to such incidents in a more rigorous way."
Silver went on to recommend that Taylor's 80 hours of community service work—as required per the terms of his probation—be directed towards helping victims of domestic violence. Contrast this to the NFL's handing of Rice, which prompted a messy, embarassing, full-blown arbitration fight between the league and its union.
Another telling contrast: while the Ravens infamously tweeted that Janay Rice had apologized for her role in getting punched in the face by her fiance, neither the NBA nor the Hornets engaged in any victim-blaming.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Taylor himself has avoided making a bad situation worse. Even though Roberts said the NBPA was ready to put its weight behind him and appeal the length of his suspension, he said on Tuesday that his "actions were wrong, and I don't care to appeal a decision that was based off my actions being wrong." He also refused to blame his harsh punishment on the increased media focus on domestic violence.
More than once, Goodell has promised that both he and the NFL can and will learn from their domestic violence missteps. Perhaps they should try learning from Silver.