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Ray Rice seemed genuine enough in facing the music on Thursday, with his first public comments since receiving a two-game suspension and an additional game-check fine for domestic violence.

He's sorry. The Baltimore Ravens running back declared that the February incident with his then-fiancee and now-wife Janay at an Atlantic City, NJ hotel was a first-time event. He pledged to help others.

Yet for all of the remorse Rice expressed, I still have a tough time, like so many others, concluding that his suspension was harsh enough.

Maybe Rice wonders, too.

"I never planned on appealing any kind of punishment," Rice said during the 17-minute, post-practice press conference at the team's headquarters. "Whether it was two games, four games, six games, eight games – I was going to own my actions and be a man about it and take whatever was given to me."

The NFL should have apologized, too.

Rice got two games for a domestic violence case that will be expunged if he completes a pretrial intervention program, yet Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis will miss the first four games this season for taking a fertility drug.

Minnesota Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer was suspended by his team for three games for making a single homophobic remark during a team meeting, while Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon faces a one-year ban, appealing what would be a failed third drug test.

Washington safety Brandon Meriweather got nearly as much time last season for another helmet-to-helmet hit – two games, reduced to a one-game suspension on appeal – as Rice received.

And who knows what type of discipline Colts owner Jim Irsay -- found driving erratically with illegal possession of prescription drugs -- will receive from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after his case works through the legal system.

Goodell's busy docket of discipline meetings will also include San Francisco 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith (weapons, DUI) and former Dallas Cowboys D-tackle Josh Brent, who wants to be reinstated after serving time following a vehicular manslaughter conviction that cost teammate Jerry Brown his life.

For all of the gray area shrouding the cases, this much is certain: With the next big debate is just around the corner, the NFL needs to revise the manner in which it metes out punishment.

In Rice's case, the NFL can try to justify the light sentence by maintaining that charges are not being pursued. There were no charges filed after Ben Roethlisberger was accused of sexual assault, but the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback was suspended for four games in 2010.

The basis for suspension in any of these cases – formal charges or not -- can be the damage to the league's image.

"I don't think it should be as complicated as it is now," New England Patriots linebacker Will Smith told USA TODAY Sports. "When things happen off the field, you have to let it play its course out in the court of law."

Smith wasn't referring specifically to Rice's case, but alluded to the "gray area" and broad power held by Goodell – which the NFL players union has long contested. Smith had a significant role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal – when heavy penalties levied by Goodell, against Smith and three other players, were overturned on appeal by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. That incident seemed to shift the paradigm for how harshly and quickly Goodell acted on discipline issues.

Goodell's task is so tough. He issues out the punishment, and he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. He'll get backlash because not all will agree.

But the outrage from the Rice case illustrated how tone-deaf the NFL can be. You're asking for outrage when the suspension for domestic violence is half the penalty (in games missed) for a player who takes a fertility drug.

Sure, the penalty imposed on Mathis was predetermined, based on the collectively-bargained steroids policy. But the penalties for personal conduct violations are not set in stone.

Given the seriousness and emotion attached to domestic violence issues, the NFL needs to establish a minimum standard that would coincide with the public trust that is essential to the league's mission.

It might also serve as a deterrent.

David Cornwell, an attorney who has represented many players in fighting issues with the league, including Roethlisberger, contends there are other ways that the league can be effective in addressing its position against domestic violence.

"Women deserve a more definitive statement that violence against women is intolerable," Cornwell told USA TODAY Sports.

What can be a stronger statement than harsher punishment?

"More resources to support organizations that help battered women," he said.

He agrees, though, that the NFL needs to revisit its discipline, including, Cornwell said, "Its Draconian drug policies."

Gordon, for instance, is appealing a test with reported levels that would not have failed under standards for the World Anti-Doping Agency that governs testing for the Olympics.

The NFL can argue that rules are rules. Gordon is appealing under NFL rules that have less gray area under the drug policies than they have for personal conduct punishment.

But sometimes, the rules need to be changed.

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