Rush to judgment: Apparent lack of complexity in the Ray Rice case

Photo above by Keith Allison with Flickr Creative Commons License.

Editor’s note: The fate of a football player typically doesn’t have much to do with public policy or politics, but since many elected officials have weighed in on the domestic violence involved, here is another point of view.

By Richard E. Vatz


“There is always a well-known solution to every human problem — neat, plausible, and wrong.” — H.L. Mencken

Everyone now agrees that the proper reaction of the National Football League (NFL) to the Ray Rice case was obvious.

There is some disagreement as to what that proper reaction should have been, however, but I have had difficulty finding a pundit who is not sure what should have been done and when it should have been done.

Most are appalled that Ray Rice was not cashiered immediately.

The first punishment was a two-game suspension, pursuant to a league investigation and a viewing of the video which showed Rice superintending Janay Palmer after he had apparently knocked her out.

The second punishment was termination of his contract and an indefinite suspension.

So many pundits; so much self-described anger.  Everyone I heard and read this week was outraged that the NFL didn’t acquire all of the evidence, didn’t act sooner and wasn’t more resolute.

Before this week, none thought that there might be more evidence to be considered that might make the latest rush to judgment questionable as well.

Mitigating circumstances

Let’s look at mitigating circumstances as well as what we’ve learned just to entertain the thought that the crucifying of Ray Rice should be somewhat reasonably attenuated.

  1. Ray Rice has no known history of such abusive behavior; many assume he must have done this before.  Perhaps; perhaps not – it cannot validly be so assumed.
  2. Ray Rice has repeatedly apologized, sometimes clumsily, but for those always clamoring about the importance of contrition, it has been manifest.
  3. The Associated Press reports that Ms. Palmer spit at Ray immediately prior to his pummeling her.  Is this exculpatory?  No, but it is not irrelevant in arguing that his punch was not premeditated.
  4. The victim claims that all of the public castigation of Rice and destruction of his reputation and career are destroying Ray and her.  Remember, she married Ray subsequent to the violence.  Are we uninterested in the effects of punishment on the person harmed?
  5. Is there no concern regarding double jeopardy?  The fact that punishment was meted out with a contractual implication that those consequences would not be added to was a reasonable inference by Rice.
  6. Is the NFL going to apply similar punishments retroactive and going forward?  Are they going to investigate all violence off the field?  The Ray Rice decision requires consistency in application, certainly,  of loss of employment.  How will the NFL achieve equity here?

There are more possibly mitigating considerations, but while seeing this as an appalling case of assault and battery, let’s not let our latest anger cause a repeat of another rush to judgment.  On the other hand, it may be too late to stem the second round.

Professor Rich Vatz teaches Persuasion at Towson University and is the author of The Only Authentic Book of Persuasion. He can be reached at