Josh Brown deserved more -- a real punishment, and a second chance

NFL in tricky position with Josh Brown (1:10)

espnW columnist Jane McManus says the NFL is in a tricky position with Josh Brown admitting to domestic violence because the league knew a lot of this information before and it would make the league look hypocritical to try to go back and suspend him. (1:10)

Ray Rice won't be with an NFL team this weekend. The former Baltimore Ravens running back, whose act of violence brought domestic violence into American living rooms, is still out of the league, and he spends his time talking about the issue that has defined his past two years.

"I just want to be a part of something," Rice told me on Thursday, "that my lasting image won't be that video."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell personally liked Rice, and before the video came out he listened to the veteran running back and his wife as they explained what happened that night, ultimately deciding to go light with a two-game suspension.

The sympathy didn't do Rice any favors, just like the one-game suspension issued to New York Giants kicker Josh Brown after an incomplete investigation won't help him move beyond his issues. Instead, Brown's future with the team is up in the air as the team travels to London, his personal therapy journals and his admission that he is an abuser open for the world to read.

And now, Giants owner John Mara has revealed that the team knew he had abused his wife. At the time the one-game suspension was announced, part of the league's rationale was that it couldn't get other witnesses or the police to cooperate. And yet, Brown himself had confirmed the most pertinent piece of information.

The NFL should have figured out that with Rice if you are going to discipline players, it needs to be enforced evenly. Mara can stand by his player, but shielding Brown from a real suspension for domestic violence doesn't reinforce the NFL's words on the subject, and it doesn't help Brown move forward.

Are we really here again?

The six-game minimum suspension called for in the NFL's 2014 NFL's Personal Conduct Policy is not really in effect anymore. The six-game standard has been used three times in the 10 possible domestic violence-related cases, and not at all in the last year. Since then, the suspensions have dropped to four games, two games and a single game.

It's worth noting that Brown appealed the single-game suspension.

The NFL's public service announcement campaign morphed from No More anti-violence ads to the home-grown Football is Family spots, backing slowly away from associating the NFL so publicly with an issue that defined it.

Yes, it's challenging to investigate these cases. The only person the NFL can compel to cooperate in this case is Brown, who according to the Giants offered a full and remorseful description of an abusive relationship, including incidents other than the May 2015 arrest he was investigated for.

If Brown told the Giants and the NFL the truth but didn't happen to mention the existence of a journal he likely never dreamed would be in the public domain, he shouldn't be subject to additional punishment. The NFL Players Association litigated that with Rice -- and won.

Absent new information or proof that Brown lied, it will be difficult for the NFL to issue another penalty. The league gets one shot at this, and it looks like it blew it. Again.

The renovated conduct policy was a good solution, but the NFL had no plan on how to stick with it. And ultimately these penalties rob players of second chances.

Rice hasn't gotten another chance on the field. There are plenty of people who won't care what happens to an abuser, but the NFL shouldn't be in that camp. It's in the league's best interest to discipline but then support as a player moves forward. Greg Hardy was given that chance, despite evidence of severely beating and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend.

Unlike Hardy, Rice hasn't been shrinking from the issues. To listen to Rice is to hear a man who accepts responsibility and has learned more about the underlying issues. He still works out and makes no secret of wanting to play again, but he has also put his career into perspective. Family, which now includes his daughter and a son as well as wife Janay, comes first.

He has been speaking to groups of kids and teams about violence and his own personal reckoning. He says each time he does he gets a handful of kids who approach and ask if he can help them with their own situations. He tells them asking for help is the first step.

"I know there will be future opportunities," he said. "I'm not giving up on football, but that isn't the be all, end all."

It's a lesson Josh Brown may have to learn very soon.