Thursday, August 7, 2014

The NFL, Ray Rice and “Ban the Box”

And let’s add unions just for the heck of it….

Unless you’ve been trekking the Outback or floating the Amazon, you’ve probably heard or read about all the furor of late over the "punishment" meted out to Ravens running back Ray Rice as a result of an altercation he had with his then girlfriend (now wife). That incident, in and of itself, is not my focus. To be clear, I am not advocating for more, or less punishment than what the legal system, the NFL and/or the Ravens have meted out. Nor am I minimizing the seriousness of his actions. But I do believe that there are some very important issues that are not being addressed.

On July 31st, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin sent letters to Roger Goodell and Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome asking for harsher punishment. "The decision to suspend Mr. Rice for a mere two games sends the inescapable message that the NFL does not take domestic or intimate-partner violence with the seriousness they deserve," They continued in part:

"Mr. Rice’s suspension reflects a disturbingly lenient, even cavalier attitude towards violence against women. We therefore urge you…………reconsider and revise Mr. Rice’s suspension to more adequately reflect the seriousness of his offense. …"

The following day, the Maryland contingent added their voice. Letters were sent to the Ravens and the league. Reps. Elijah Cummings, John Sarbanes, Chris Van Hollen, John Delaney and Steny Hoyer –- the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House -- all questioned the punishment. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin also called for a tougher penalty.

I appreciate that these elected officials are of the opinion that domestic violence deserves the condemnation of the behavior by society and by our legal system. On that, we can all agree. However, they are calling for harsher punishment than the duly appointed officers of the court felt appropriate. The New Jersey prosecutor chose not to pursue the case after Rice entered a pre-trail diversionary program. Argue that however you want; campaign for harsher penalties for first –time offenders if that’s what you believe. That’s what our country allows us to do. But, since the legal system has already spoken on this matter, these folks, and many members of both sports and general media now feel Mr. Rice’s employer should do what they feel the legal system did not do. Remember, Rice was not convicted of anything. In fact, the charges levied can be removed if he successfully completes the diversionary program and he was never jailed on this charge. He has not had prior violations of any NFL policy.

Here’s the disconnect as I see it: All of these elected officials are from states that have various levels of "ban the box" laws (statewide, localities or state employment, etc.). You know, those laws that say an employer cannot inquire of, or consider, an applicant’s prior criminal record, at least until the applicant has been chosen for an interview or in some cases, not until the post-offer stage of the process. Concerning both applicants and current employees, many of these laws also say the employer must take into consideration many factors before rejecting the applicant or taking employment action, such as the nature of the conviction, the relatedness to the job in question, the overall criminal history and so on. And don’t even think about looking at an arrest record; employers are usually only able to consider actual convictions. The state of Maryland has even tried several times (unsuccessfully) to pass laws that would shield conviction information from employers so they cannot use that information in employment decisions.

So, let’s break this down very simply: They feel strongly that employers should not be able to hold violations of our laws against an applicant or employee to the degree that they would prevent employers from even having that information upon which to decide who is the best candidate for hire, and yet they are demanding that someone who does not even have a conviction, who presents with a single incident, be punished more harshly and have that one (albeit serious) mistake held against him for a long time to come. How does that make any sense, and doesn’t it seem just a bit hypocritical?

There has also been a fair amount of criticism that the punishment Roger Goodell visited upon Rice was inconsistent with other rule violations. They felt it unfair that repeat drug use violations carried harsher penalties. You know, something that might actually have a bearing on a player’s ability to do his job. So, are you all forgetting that the NFL is a unionized workplace? Yep. They have a collective bargaining agreement that spells out exactly what penalties will be imposed for various infractions of NFL policies, just like any other unionized workplace. If these folks feel strongly that these penalties are out of balance, they really ought to be speaking to the union about that, don’t you think? But, then, they support labor unions, so I doubt that will happen.

My point is that you simply can’t have it both ways. You cannot pass laws that purport to protect people with prior criminal convictions, thereby giving them a "second chance" (and therefore hamstringing businesses), and then turn around and call for exactly the opposite to happen because……………………well, because why? That’s a great question. Why this inconsistency? Which stance is their true stance? And which is simply grandstanding?

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