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Editorial: Ray Rice case raises issue of privilege

In this May 23, 2014, file photo, Janay

In this May 23, 2014, file photo, Janay Rice, left, looks on as her husband, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, speaks to the media during a news conference in Owings Mills, Md. Credit: AP / Patrick Semansky

The more the Ray Rice story develops, the more complicated the questions get. The NFL, commissioner Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens are being lambasted for Rice's original punishment, and deservedly so. The two-game suspension from the league was laughable, and the initial lack of action by the team disgraceful.

Now there is a question about whether the league had access to the video of Rice hitting then-fiancee (and now wife) Janay Palmer in the face and knocking her out in an Atlantic City elevator. The video created a public furor after it was released by entertainment website TMZ.

These are important issues: The NFL has tremendous power over public opinion, and public opinion has tremendous power over the NFL. The league's attitude about and response to attacks on women by players matter very much. Goodell has two other cases of domestic violence before him right now. One player has been convicted of assaulting and threatening to kill his girlfriend, but is appealing. Another has been charged with domestic violence against his pregnant fiancee. Both are still playing while their legal cases remain unresolved, but how the league deals with them should get serious scrutiny.

But the sharpest focus should not fall on the NFL and Goodell, whose resignation many are calling for. The questions about why a New Jersey prosecutor let Rice off with counseling after he admitted what he did are far more important. Underlying it all are the really big questions: How can society still be so apathetic about violence against women? How much do celebrities and other well-connected men get away with because of their status? How much pull does an organization like the NFL have to make sure stars go unpunished? And what will it take to erase the power of such privilege and make domestic violence an issue we take seriously even when there is no Internet sensation?