When the crawl lines of “VIDEO OF NFL PLAYER KNOCKING OUT HIS WIFE” all stop playing on a loop, when the caravans of outrage from domestic violence groups gradually pass — that moment in a week or so when Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens can exhale feeling the worst is behind them — there always will be one disturbing fact:
If not for TMZ, Ray Rice would be playing Sept. 21, when the Ravens visit Cleveland.
A man who hit a woman so hard he dropped her like a rag doll and left her lifeless-looking body face down on the elevator floor for several moments — before trying to clear her feet of the elevator door as if she were a cumbersome piece of furniture he was moving — was supposed to go to work like every other American in two weeks’ time.
Until Monday, when TMZ produced the sickening images of Rice cold-cocking his fiancee last February in a casino elevator, a two-game punishment seemed enough for the NFL commissioner and the Ravens.
Until Monday afternoon’s public scorn and anger, Rice was going to be eligible to play 14 of 16 games this season.
Until current and former NFL players went ballistic over social media, he was free to go.
Even Ray Rice’s peers, who often go too far in supporting wayward teammates, understood what Goodell and the team never grasped: The whole my-teammate-is-my-family ethos in sports works only when people conform to society’s rules in order to be part of that family. Rice’s own peers decided before their direct supervisors that what Ray Rice did to his future wife last February disqualified him from their family. Only then did the team act and void his contract.
Every day in America, three women die from domestic violence. These women are hit, kicked and choked until they do not move. These women are our sisters, mothers, daughters.
Any one of these women could have been Janay Rice.
The fallout from this episode has moved beyond Rice’s criminal behavior and onto Goodell’s overall fitness to do his job, a shameful Atlantic City district attorney’s office apparently more compassionate toward abusers than the abused, and a team so tone-deaf that Monday it still had a tweet on its official account posted from a May news conference that read, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”
Ray Rice beat a woman, and for that, he deserves all the public shame and financial loss that comes with it. But at least he is in counseling now, hopefully gleaning the tools and support he will need to ensure he never hits a woman again.
I can’t say the same for Goodell, his deputies or Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti and his employees. If anyone needed sensitivity training these past few months, it was this morally inept crew.
This entire episode has taught us about the NFL from beginning to end, how a $9 billion colossus is far more concerned with preserving its image than with the behavior of its employees.
From the moment Goodell wrongly brought the couple together to help decide discipline this past June, in effect letting the perpetrator tell his story in front of his victim, who was pleading for leniency (a major ethical blunder among every domestic violence and law-enforcement agency), to the widely pilloried two-game suspension, to Goodell acknowledging his mistake by imposing tougher suspensions for domestic abuse going forward and through Monday, when nothing happened apart from what was known — except everyone got to see it.
So in case you didn’t know what a professional athlete who can push 400 pounds of weight off his rock-hard 212-pound frame looked like when sucker-punching a woman unconscious in an elevator, here’s the video, folks.
Basically, by only acting Monday, the NFL said, “You can do anything horrifically imaginable to your spouse, but don’t let anyone see it or we will look bad.”
Even if we concede the league was unable to obtain the same video a Web site was able to procure — a stretch of the imagination — we already had video of Rice hauling his out-cold fiancee out of the elevator. How did Goodell and others think she became unconscious?
And there’s Bisciotti, whose quote in a Ravens-sponsored blog this past July comes across as almost haunting.
“Is it a flaw for us that we support our players in tough times?” Bischotti said. “If it is, I’m okay with that.”
The article was written by the team’s senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne, under the headline, “I Like Ray Rice.” It went to great pains to paint a man ashamed of himself, trying to resurrect his career and image. Not one single sentence was devoted to Janay Rice.
This is what happens when a league gets comfortable with camouflaging the truth. When you tell concerned mothers their sons are more liable to suffer concussions riding their bikes than playing football, maximizing profits has eclipsed common decency. Under Goodell, the NFL has lost its moral direction.
This country has provided the NFL and its franchises untold billions in public funding, untold billions in federal regulatory protection, and for that, Goodell’s league has a responsibility to be of value to the public — to not merely provide the entertainment value modern-day gladiators bring, but also social value.
And on this front, time after time, it has failed. If this were a democracy, Goodell would be voted out of office.
It’s beyond comprehension how the NFL fumbled this so badly.
Ray Rice’s NFL career may be done because of what we knew way back in February and unfortunately were able to see Monday.
But we also found out something else these past few months: Roger Goodell is not a leader of men. He’s an overpaid, tone-deaf functionary whose power now needs to be checked. He needs to go too.
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