Reality Check: NFL's vs. Other Pro Leagues' Policies on Domestic Violence

In the wake of criticism over the two-game suspension for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, the NFL instituted a new policy for domestic violence offenders – a six-game, unpaid suspension for first-time convictions and a one-year suspension (and possible lifetime ban) for a second conviction.

While there is debate over if the new NFL policy goes far enough, there hasn’t been a great deal of discussion about how other professional sports leagues handle domestic violence among their players.

Are things different for offenders in the NBA, NHL and MLB? The short answer is yes – the NBA is the only league that has clearly defined penalties for domestic violence offenders. The NHL and MLB handle domestic violence convictions on a case-by-case basis.

In the NBA, domestic violence convictions are handled under the league’s rules about "Unlawful Violence" – players are immediately suspended for a minimum of 10 games, must get a clinical evaluation and attend counseling sessions.

In contrast, the NHL and MLB don’t have clearly defined policies and penalties are handed out at the discretion of each league’s commissioner. This has led to instances where players have been convicted of domestic violence and not faced any game-related suspensions or punishments. It is important to note that this is exactly how the NFL handled domestic violence – on a case-by-case basis – prior to the public outcry that followed the initial two-game suspension of Rice.

NBC Bay Area spoke with Matthew Parlow, a sports law expert at Marquette University, to get more context about player misconduct in professional sports leagues.

Parlow noted that handling incidents of unlawful violence on a case-by-case basis hasn’t led to the best results, saying, "The leagues haven’t had a particularly good history in being consistent, and candidly, being tough on a lot of these domestic violence problems."

In discussing the current situation surrounding the NFL, Parlow said, "I think there are benefits to these issues coming to light because I think it’s really pushing the sports leagues that don’t have these kinds of policies to try to adopt ones that are similar to the NFL or the NBA."

As things stand, though, the NHL and MLB haven’t made any announcements about establishing formal penalties for domestic violence convictions. On Thursday, when the MLB’s Commissioner, Bud Selig, was asked about baseball’s policy, he noted that the league and players’ union have previously discussed the idea of a blanket policy but opted to handle domestic violence on a case-by-case basis.

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