Right Punishment, Wrong Reason for Washington

The NFL has just announced that Arizona Cardinal star linebacker, Daryl Washington, will be suspended for the entirety of the 2014 season.  Early reports were that the suspension related to the domestic violence offense from May 1, 2013.  That turned out to be erroneous.   The accurate report is that the suspension is for Washington’s repeat violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.  According to representatives for Washington, the violation was the result of use of marijuana.

The Cardinals’ reaction has been clear.  They are furious with Washington for having put the team in this position for a second consecutive year through his drug policy violations.  The Cardinals just committed to a $10 million roster bonus in March, $5 million of which has already been paid.  Steve Keim is talking like a GM who has decided to move forward with a long term plan that will not include Washington in the formula.  ESPN commentators are calling for the Cardinals to cut their losses and part ways with Washington.

But if there is going to be a sense of outrage, I don’t think it should be about the drug policy violation.  I want to address Washington’s recent criminal conviction for domestic violence.  First, here are the basic alleged facts:  On May 1, 2013, Washington got into an argument with the mother of his then six-month old child.  She claimed that Washington grabbed her by the throat, pushed her, pulled down her shirt and eventually threw her from a parked vehicle.  First responders found her to have bruises and abrasions consistent with her allegations. Subsequent  hospital treatment revealed that she had also suffered a broken clavicle.  Washington’s version of events differed materially, claiming that his actions were all in response to her attacks.

Washington was charged with two counts of aggravated assault and one count of criminal trespass, all of which were felonies.  On April 23, 2014, following a plea agreement between Washington and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, Washington admitted to and was convicted of Aggravated Assault, a domestic violence offense, and placed on one year of supervised probation.  The offense is a Class 6 Felony and will not and cannot become a misdemeanor unless and until Washington successfully completes probation.  Many local sportscasters have erroneously stated that the conviction was for a misdemeanor, and have used that to minimize the import of Washington’s actions.

Washington’s case has a companion, that being Ray Rice’s attack this past winter on his then-fiancé and now wife.  Unlike Washington, Rice has not been required to plead guilty but rather, has entered into a diversion program.  If he successfully completes the program, the charge will be dismissed.  But his crime is no less significant than what Washington did.  The NFL has been slow to respond to the Ray Rice incident.  What are they waiting for?  And when they act, will the penalty be a mere four games, the equivalent of a first offense against the league’s drug policy?

Why am I addressing “yesterday’s news” about Washington’s domestic violence conviction when today’s reports are about his year-long suspension for being a repeat offender of the league’s drug policy?  Well, it’s because I think the domestic violence case is the bigger violation of the two.  Don’t get me wrong; I support the league’s drug policies and the crackdowns we have seen in many professional sports.  I have also seen the swift and decisive action taken when racism rears its ugly head, such as the situation with Donald Sterling.  What I have not seen is the outrage and penalties of real consequence when domestic violence occurs.  Doesn’t violence against women warrant at least as much of a stand as does racism and drug policy violations?

It’s no longer good enough for sports commentators to say that men who abuse women are cowards.  It is time to take action and impose significant league sanctions when these cowards commit their crimes.