TMZ

Former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is one of 42 players arrested for an incident of domestic violence since Roger Goodell took over as commissioner of the National Football League eight years ago. What made Rice's case different was that he was caught on camera.

The Ravens terminated Rice's contract on Monday after TMZ released a shocking video of the player punching his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, in the face and knocking her out cold inside an elevator at an Atlantic City hotel in February. The NFL suspended Rice indefinitely, making it virtually impossible for him to sign with another team.

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That's one of the most severe punishments handed down by the NFL since it effectively banned Aaron Hernandez in 2013 after the New England Patriots tight end was accused of murder. And it is a sharp break from the way the league has handled domestic violence in the past, even though statistics show it's a serious problem.

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Had the video not been released, Rice in all likelihood would have been back on the field for a Sept. 21 game against the Cleveland Browns.

"If we can see something visually or hear it, then the reaction is going to be so much greater," said Jordan Bass, an assistant professor in the department of health, sport and exercise sciences at the University of Kansas.

Even though the NFL appeared to be aware of Rice's actions, Goodell suspended him for only two games in July, two months after Rice publicly apologized for the incident. The punishment received so much criticism that Goodell just weeks later toughened the league's policy on domestic violence.

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"My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families," Goodell wrote in a letter. "I didn't get it right."

The NFL said in a statement on Monday that the tape from inside the hotel elevator had "not been made available" to the league previously. Multiple reports from July, however, say that the NFL and Ravens officials had seen that video.

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Had Rice's actions not been caught on tape—and had TMZ not released it—it's a safe bet that domestic violence wouldn't have shown up on the NFL's offseason radar.

Rice and Palmer were both arrested and released from jail on Feb. 15 on simple assault charges. Four days later, a different story emerged when TMZ published video of Rice dragging an apparently unconscious Palmer out of an elevator at Atlantic City's Revel casino. Rice was charged with third-degree aggravated assault, but the charge could be dismissed if he completes a pretrial intervention program.

"With just the first video of him dragging her out of the elevator, that really amped up the outrage," Bass said.

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Without the public backlash against the league's handling of the Rice incident, it's fair to say the name Ray McDonald wouldn't register with most football fans.

McDonald, a San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman, was arrested over Labor Day weekend on felony domestic violence charges after police were called to his home and found "visible injuries" on his pregnant fiancée.

He played last Sunday in the 49ers' opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Goodell said he is following the case "very closely," but will wait until the legal case is resolved before deciding if the new domestic violence policy applies.

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Would Goodell be quicker to act against McDonald if the alleged act was caught on tape?

"If there was video of that instance, he probably wouldn't be on the field, that's kind of what the evidence suggests," Bass said.

That isn't the only relevant case. Greg Hardy, a Pro Bowl defensive end with the Carolina Panthers, was convicted this summer of assault against a woman. He said in late August that he hadn't heard from the NFL regarding the decision, which he is appealing. Hardy played on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

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Videotape isn't the only factor in how the league deals with players suspected of committing domestic violence. Their star status matters, too.

Data analyzed by Fusion, beginning with the 2006 season, found that backup players were more likely than starters to be cut by their teams following a domestic violence arrest.

Now that domestic violence has become a major issue around the league, some players are calling for stronger penalties. Here's how two Denver Broncos players reacted to the Rice video:

That man should be thrown out the the nfl and thrown into jail. Shame on those deciding his punishment. Smh— Terrance Knighton (@MrKnighton2u) September 8, 2014

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Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.

Ted Hesson was formerly the immigration editor at Fusion, covering the issue from Washington, D.C. He also writes about drug laws and (occasionally) baseball. On the side: guitars, urban biking, and fiction.