The NFL's decision to issue a two-game suspension to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice shows a fundamental lack of understanding about the issue of domestic violence, says Judy Kluger, a former New York City prosecutor and judge who now serves as executive director of Sanctuary for Families.
"I could understand this decision 20 or 30 years ago when people didn't understand the dynamics of domestic violence," Kluger said. "This is a throwback to an earlier era."
Sanctuary for Families is a New York-based group that offers legal and economic support for families in crisis. For part of her 10 years as a prosecutor, Kluger led Brooklyn's sex crimes bureau.
The NFL declined to answer whether it spoke to any domestic violence groups, and if so which ones, before making its decision on Rice.
According to several reports, part of the consideration in issuing a light sentence -- the NFL generally issues at least four games in most off-the-field incidents -- was that Rice's wife, Janay, appealed to commissioner Roger Goodell on behalf of her now husband.
"Having done this work for many years, often a victim will say she doesn't want the abuser punished," Kluger said. "That shouldn't deter what an independent organization decides to do."
Had Janay Rice, who was Ray's fiancée when he apparently rendered her unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino during the NFL offseason, agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, Kluger said "this would be a serious felony."
The fact that she didn't, and accepted some of the blame for that night in a news conference held by the Ravens in the team facility, can be part of the dynamic of domestic violence. Kluger said there are often emotional or economic reasons for a victim to side with her partner afterward.
Kluger also took issue with the league's consideration that this was Rice's first offense.
"A first offense in the context of this type of action?" she said. "Perhaps for pot smoking or shoplifting. There are some things you don't get a pass for the first time."
She noted that it takes a "tremendous amount of force" to knock out someone. If Rice had rendered another man unconscious, he could have faced assault charges.
"This is a complete failure by the NFL," Kluger said.