During the last few years, there have been major ethical flaws in the NFL’s response to their athletes that committed acts of domestic violence.

One of many media-popular stories is the altercation between Ray Rice and girlfriend, Janay Palmer. Rice was caught on an elevator camera knocking Palmer unconscious after a heated argument, then dragging her along the floor before deciding to leave her in the hallway. The NFL suspended him for two games.

A two-game suspension was the set regulation for first-time offenders of domestic violence in the NFL last year. This situation, however, sent waves of anger throughout the sports community, as many believed the punishment was absurdly miniscule.

After the outcries, NFL Commissioner Robert Goodell announced a new, increased punishment from two-game suspensions to six-game suspensions for first-time offenders, unless “mitigating factors” come into play. Second-time offenders are to be banned from the league.

The new policy is, at most, a step forward in the right direction, but the NFL now has the responsibility to follow through with it, and evidently, it has not.

This past spring, the NFL conducted an investigation on Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy after his arrest for physically assaulting his girlfriend. The two-month investigation found “sufficient credible evidence” to prove that he had assaulted his girlfriend at least four separate times. The NFL suspended him for ten games, two more than the new standard punishment. Then in April, Arbitrator Harold Henderson reduced the suspension to only four games. According to an article on the NFL’s website, he felt ten games were “simply too much” when compared to last year’s baseline punishment.

To put this matter into perspective, Hardy’s punishment was only as severe as a player who was caught smoking marijuana four times.

The inconsistency in their response policy is evident in both its recent history and in comparison to other league violations, which only seems to tarnish the NFL’s reputation further.

Consider this comparison: Hardy was suspended the same amount of games for abusing his girlfriend as Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady was for allegedly having “general awareness” that footballs were being deflated under regulation during last year’s game against the Colts.

The NFL is sending a very unnerving and dangerous message to its viewers: that physical violence is no worse than smoking or watching some footballs deflate. They treat issues of domestic violence as a minor problem and that’s simply not okay.

Athletes practically live in the spotlight. So, naturally, they are role models to aspiring sports players and fans. When an NFL star can beat up his significant other and walk away with nothing more than a short timeout, it sends a message to kids everywhere that domestic violence is not a huge deal, and you can still be a star if you do it.

As a major source of influence and inspiration, the NFL needs to wake up and rethink its approach. Domestic violence is not a joke.