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Editorial: NFL should put major spotlight on domestic abuse

Ray Rice pauses while addressing reporters with his

Ray Rice pauses while addressing reporters with his wife Janay at the Ravens training center on May 23, 2014 in Owings Mills, Maryland. Credit: Getty Images / Rob Carr

So far it looks like the only black eyes the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens care about are the ones their images suffered with the viral release of a graphic video of star player Ray Rice blasting his soon-to-be wife with a closed fist.

That's a shameful reality, because -- if they seize the chance -- both the team and the league now have an opportunity and an obligation to do far more than simply spin the public perception.

Rice was suspended for two games by the NFL and not punished at all by the Ravens when word surfaced that he beat fiancee Janay Palmer unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. Palmer married Rice a month afterward. He was prosecuted in Atlantic City for aggravated assault, pleaded not guilty and got off with counseling when she refused to testify against him.

After Monday's release of the video enraged the public, Rice was fired by the team and suspended indefinitely by the league, actions that smack more of public relations than a desire to penalize evil acts.

The federal Violence Against Women Act became law 20 years ago this week, putting a spotlight on domestic abuse and increasing efforts to stop it. But violence against women remains a major problem, and too little attention is paid to it. Such attacks, particularly from boyfriends and husbands, is still taken lightly by the police and the courts.

The NFL and the Ravens aren't going to lose many fans from the Ray Rice fallout. Followers are just too devoted to walk away. But the league and the team could turn that blind loyalty to a good end.

A current NFL marketing campaign seeks to bring more women into the fold, but soft spreads in fashion magazines such as Vogue are not its best play. Helping to end violence against women is the call the NFL needs to make. Public service announcements during games need to feature the brawniest players sharing the message, "I can hit harder than any man in the world, but I never, ever, hit women."

That's the thing that really matters in the Ray Rice incident -- ending abuse against women by teaching men it's unacceptable, and teaching women not to accept it. The NFL and its teams hold huge sway in our culture. They can make a difference, and score a real victory.