Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL and terminated by his team after the celebrity gossip website TMZ released disturbing new footage Monday of the star player striking his then-fiancee Janay Palmer in February.
This unprecedented move by the NFL and the Ravens comes just weeks after the league instituted a stronger policy to combat domestic abuse by personnel on and off the field.
Rice and Palmer were involved in a violent altercation, which was caught on camera, at Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City on February 15th. Surveillance footage showing Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of an elevator was made public and sparked a national debate over how the NFL handles physical abuse perpetrated by players.
That footage showed the aftermath of a vicious punch thrown by Rice, which is clearly seen in the TMZ clip. The NFL released a statement earlier on Monday about the latest leaked images: "We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today," said the NFL's Brian McCarthy.
The two-game suspension that Rice initially received in July for his attack on Palmer only exacerbated criticism of the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell.
In August, Goodell conceded he "didn't get it right" with his punishment of Rice and rolled out a stricter NFL policy that levies a six-game suspension without pay for a first offense of sexual assault or domestic violence, and a potential lifetime ban for a second incident. The new rules were widely praised by advocates and critics.
"NNEDV and victim advocates were shocked this summer at the league's two-game suspension of a player who had knocked his girlfriend unconscious," said Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. "Today we are pleased and heartened by the NFL's serious plan to proactively address violence against women."
“Domestic violence and sexual assault are wrong. They are illegal. They have no place in the NFL and are unacceptable in any way, under any circumstances. That has been and remains our policy,” Goodell wrote in a letter to all 32 NFL owners and teams.
Still, this newly unveiled footage is a stark reminder of how brutal Rice's attack on Palmer was, and it raises serious questions about how critically the NFL examined his case before rendering its decision. Rice and Palmer have since married and the star running back has offered a public apology for his actions.
“My actions were inexcusable. That’s something I have to live with the rest of my life," he told reporters in July.
Rice pleaded not guilty to assault charges and was sentenced to a pretrial intervention program. By enrolling in this program Rice avoided jail time and had his arrest record expunged. There is no expectation that the case will be reopened at this time.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) nevertheless called on the NFL to increase the penalty on Rice in light of the newly released footage on Monday. He was joined by fellow Democratic Senators Tammy Baldwin and Chris Murphy on a letter sent to Goodell calling for further review of NFL policies.
"The video released today emphasizes how egregiously weak and wrong the initial penalty against Ray Rice was -- as the Commissioner has acknowledged -- and it constitutes new, powerful evidence that requires the Commissioner to reconsider and reach a stronger punishment," Blumenthal said. "The NFL took a positive step forward with its new policy on domestic violence, but in the wake of this new video, allowing Ray Rice to take the field after only a two-game suspension would be a disappointing step backwards."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest released a statement Monday evening after discussing Rice's termination with President Obama. "The President is the father of two daughters," it read. "And like any American, he believes that domestic violence is contemptible and unacceptable in a civilized society."
"Hitting a woman is not something a real man does, and that's true whether or not an act of violence happens in the public eye, or, far too often, behind closed doors. Stopping domestic violence is something that's bigger than football -- and all of us have a responsibility to put a stop to it."
The 27-year-old Rice is a six-year veteran of the NFL and a three-time Pro Bowler. He has spent his entire career with the Baltimore Ravens, winning a Super Bowl with the team in 2013. He has yet to release a statement about his termination.