Cleaning Up the Ray Rice Mess
I absolutely love the NFL. I also love redemption, and second chances. I love forgiveness, and the acknowledgment that we all make mistakes in life that hopefully won’t be used to define us. But above all of these things, I love my wife, and I can’t fathom ever getting to the place where I would violently strike her. Following my father’s lead, I’ve always felt that my greatest calling as a husband is to protect her from as much pain as is within my power.
So where does that leave me/us regarding former Ravens running back Ray Rice?
Actually, I feel pity for the man. He was a broken superstar in the press conference he gave in May with his now wife, Janay Palmer, the woman he violently struck last February. And now in the wake of his release by Baltimore and his subsequent indefinite suspension by the NFL, I have a hard time seeing how this broken man will ever be whole again.
Perhaps that’s okay. Actions have consequences, and reprehensible actions should carry proportionate penalties. And the initial two-game suspension handed down by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was almost too puny to be considered even mildly punitive.
Throughout this episode, from when the slap-on-the-wrist suspension was first announced in July, to today, where the NFL is now applauding itself for righting a wrong (albeit it’s own wrong), the commissioner has been transparently tone deaf and out of touch. Or simply he’s a leader of billionaires, which naturally lends itself to cynicism and dishonesty.
Goodell has mismanaged the entire affair from the beginning. He’s shown the world that above all else, the NFL values making sure its superstars remain on the field of play. Only when the rest of the world got to see the actual tape of what we all knew happened, did he behave otherwise.
We’d seen Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee out of the elevator. Did we have to actually see the video of the punch to recognize how sudden and violent it must have been?
For years, pro athletes and a seemingly disproportionate number of NFL players, have been embroiled in incidences of domestic violence. Did we or the league think that these amounted to nothing more than harsh words and insults?
Violence towards women is violence towards women. But it does take on a scarier reality when the violence is being perpetrated by a 230-pound professional football player that bench presses 400 pounds. Yet the fans and the league have been willing to avert their eyes from that reality for years.
Maybe now they are getting it right. Maybe now our eyes are opening. But as far as the league is concerned, there should be no back-slapping for this newfound policy of actual punishment that fits the crime. This was the forcing of a hand by a surveillance tape that should have been seen months ago when the investigation was underway. Or, and equally true, it never needed to be seen because the aftermath of the punch made it all too clear as to what actually happened inside that Atlantic City elevator.
I’ve not been a fan of Goodell’s for some time now. He made a mockery of the league with his handling of the replacement referees in 2012. He’s been slow to respond to the concussion issue and the longterm health of his players. The drug policy he oversees, with an assist from the player’s union, feels arbitrary and outdated. His moving of the Super Bowl to cold weather cities is a misguided money grab. I believe his continued overtures about moving a franchise to London is simply a way to keep the coffers of the International Series played in London’s Wembley Stadium open for as long as possible. And I think the way the NFL, while under his watch, has punished players for violence off the field has been inconsistent to almost non-existent.
So there is no doubt in my mind that the culpability for the way the NFL botched this entire affair lies at the feet of Goodell. He is being taken to task for his inaction, and now his retroactive “CYA” action, as he should be.
But of course the original culpable party in all of this is Ray Rice. A talented a running back, an integral part of the Ravens offense, and a man who sounded genuinely embarrassed and remorseful when he gave his press conference back in May.
So does he deserve forgiveness? Should he be given a second chance?
Several years ago I worked alongside Hall of Fame quarterback Warren Moon when we were both at Fox Sports. I was the writer for the Ultimate Fantasy Football Show, and he was one of our chief analysts. He was kind, soft-spoken, always friendly, very insightful, and a superstar athlete who defied all of the stereotypes of arrogance and privilege. In short, he was delight to work alongside and he was incredibly generous. I was doing some fundraising at the time for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and he happily signed several footballs for me to auction off.
He’d also been involved in a physical altercation with his wife a few years earlier. He was ultimately acquitted of spousal abuse charges, but the comments that came from the jury following the verdict were far from exonerating. One juror even said, “There’s some sort of slapping in most marriages.”
If that is true, that is sad.
I bring up Warren Moon because he was given a second chance. He was forgiven for getting physical with his wife. And by all accounts, he used his second chance to get right with his wife and his fans. (Although ultimately that marriage did end a few years later.)
Michael Vick is back on a football field after serving jail time for a heinous crime. Ray Lewis came back and played after his prison sentence for obstruction of justice, following an initial charge of murder. And countless others have returned to the field following all kinds of crimes, ranging from theft, drugs, assault, weapons charges, spousal abuse, and vehicular manslaughter.
The NFL’s wrap sheet is long. So is it’s history of allowing players a second chance. And we as fans also tend to be very quick to forgive. So should Ray Rice be given the same opportunity?
I think yes… eventually. There should be no rush to reinstate him now. He should miss this entire season. And if, and only if, he can demonstrate that he has used his fame and position to educate other young men about not just the consequences of domestic violence, but the actual wrongness of it, then he should be given a second chance.
But if, on the other hand, he fails to take this opportunity to become an agent of cultural change in the NFL community, and the community at large, then his ban should remain in place. A lifetime ban would be inconsistent with how the league has adjudicated these things in the past. But the start of a new day, a new policy, and a new attitude toward the tolerance of violence towards women must begin now.