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NFL Faces Criticism Over Ray Rice Suspension From Ravens


Oh, my favorite tune lots of sports news. Alas - most of it away from the playing field this week. Pleased to be joined now by Kavitha Davidson, sports columnist for Bloomberg View. She joins us from the studios of the Radio Foundation in New York City. Kavitha, thanks very much for being with us.

KAVITHA DAVIDSON: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Let's jump right into this. Ray Rice, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was arrested and charged for domestic violence in February. There's a pretty famous video of him dragging his unconscious fiance's body out of the elevator. He avoided trial by enrolling in a treatment program. The NFL says he'll be suspended for two games, fined $58,000. I hate to use the phrase slap on the wrist. You've written a very strong column about this. What do you think this penalty says about the NFL?

DAVIDSON: Well, the NFL has sent a really damaging message to its female fans, to all women - to all victims of domestic abuse, really. For reference, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon is facing a year-long suspension for smoking pot. Fourteen other players have been suspended this off-season for either PED use or substance abuse. And all of them have received at least a four-game penalty. This really could have been an opportunity for the league to send a strong message about domestic violence. And it really missed that opportunity.

SIMON: Another topic in football - Tony Dungy, first African American coach to win the Super Bowl. He is considered a statesman of sports, a kind - a moral man who's seen a lot of life. He said this week he wouldn't have drafted Michael Sam. The now St. Louis Rams player's became the first openly gay player in NFL. Mr. Dungy said, I wouldn't want to deal with all of it, and he thinks it would be a distraction to other players. Why do these remarks get all of the attention they had this week?

DAVIDSON: Well, Tony Dungy, himself, is such a respected member of the NFL community. He was the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl. He was one of the first African American head coaches period. And he's really fought for equality in his past life and his career. So it's a really disappointing thing, for those of us who fight for civil rights, to see somebody trying to block somebody else's advancements in that area. The distraction idea is just a red herring. The idea that a gay player would be distracting to a locker room is only really being perpetuated by statements like Tony Dungy's. Michael Sam wasn't a distraction until Tony Dungy brought him up.

SIMON: Do you think we better get our seats buckled for more of this as the NFL season begins?

DAVIDSON: I think so, absolutely. You know, Michael Sam is just keeping his head down, and he's just playing football. And he's going to do what he does. And if he makes the team, that would be a great advancement obviously for gay players, which we know exist throughout the NFL. But comments like Tony Dungy's only serve to give an air of respectability to the idea that it's OK to deny people their rights.

SIMON: Kavitha, is there a big baseball story this week?

DAVIDSON: I think we are missing a big baseball story here.

SIMON: (Laughing) Next week, technically.

DAVIDSON: I heard something about Wrigley Field.

SIMON: Monday at Wrigley field, I get to throw out the first pitch. The Chicago Cubs against the Colorado Rockies - two last-place teams, I'm pleased to say.

DAVIDSON: That's very exciting. Have you been practicing?

SIMON: You know, I've gotten advice from Bill Lee, the old Boston Red Sox pitcher. He's still pitching - bless him - for a semi-pro team in Chicago, although he's given me more advice about life than baseball. I'm taking prune juice, and I'm hoping I'm related to Alfredo Simon, the all-star picture for the Cincinnati Reds. I don't know if he's hoping he's related to me, but I'm hoping that, you know - that'll give a little history on my side. Kavitha, we read and enjoy your column. It's a pleasure to have you. Kavitha Davidson, sports columnist for Bloomberg View. Thanks very much for being with us.

DAVIDSON: Thank you so much.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.