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Sports Commissioners Absent From Senate Hearing On Domestic Abuse

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

[**NEW STORY*] And let's return to the United States where lawmakers are asking questions about pro football. Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has been cleared to play. He just has to find a team that will take him. The NFL ended his suspension for knocking out the woman who is now his wife. And as he tries to repair his image, Congress is criticizing the NFL's handling of this case. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS: Troy Vincent came to Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of the NFL about the league's efforts to police domestic violence. But the former player got choked up when he described the violence he'd witnessed in his own home, telling lawmakers about the abuse his mother endured.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TROY VINCENT: I relate to the 20 million victims - survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse in every community across our great nation.

SUMMERS: Vincent said the case involving Rice was handled poorly. Initially, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended the former Baltimore Ravens player for two games for knocking out his then-fiancee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROGER GOODELL: We failed. The commissioner failed to impose a proper discipline in the Ray Rice case at the very beginning.

SUMMERS: After a video was released by TMZ, Rice was suspended indefinitely. But Rice appealed that decision, and his suspension was vacated last week. He can now sign to play with any team. Vincent was asked why the NFL didn't do more to get the video from inside the elevator sooner.

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VINCENT: The first video - heartless, gutless, despicable. I don't think there was a need for a second video to impose a proper discipline. We failed in that particular area.

SUMMERS: Senator John Thune South Dakota said the NFL and its commissioner botched the case.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR JOHN THUNE: The NFL sent a mixed message to millions of fans and the general public about how it handles such acts of violence.

SUMMERS: Goodell, the NFL Commissioner didn't testify. Neither did the commissioners of Major League Baseball, the NBA or the NHL. Some lawmakers said that showed a lack of seriousness. New Hampshire Senator Kelly Ayotte.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR KELLY AYOTTE: I do think that it's pretty convenient that none of them were able to appear today. And it does say something about, where does the level of commitment come?

SUMMERS: Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said he was introducing legislation to end the anti-trust exemption some pro-sports leagues enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL: And I'm looking for a way to impose accountability beyond a hearing, beyond negotiations, and accountability that means something in dollars and cents.

SUMMERS: Rice's case isn't the only one bringing more attention to the way professional sports leagues handle domestic violence issues. On Tuesday, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson appealed his suspension. Peterson pleaded no contest in a child abuse case. And in November, the NBA suspended Charlotte Hornets forward Jeff Taylor. He pleaded guilty to a domestic violence charge in Michigan. Juana Summers, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.