The Ray Rice Suspension Further Reveals the NFL’s Moral Emptiness

By now, you’ve likely read a great deal about Ray Rice uppercutting his fiancee’ in an elevator in February, seen the footage of Rice dragging her unconscious body from said elevator, heard about the NFL’s light discipline for him and its general cluelessness regarding how that would be perceived.

You’ve probably read the great column by Tomas Rios, or the number of excellent columns churned out by SBNation’s writers and numerous writers at other media outlets. Perhaps you wanted a woman’s perspective on the matter, and read Jane Coaston, Erin Gloria Ryan, or someone else. If you’re not a reader, or if you just really like watching well-articulated, justifiable outrage, you’ve seen Keith Olbermann’s video excoriating the league for its decision:

Even ESPN, that mainstream media outlet so deeply invested in the NFL’s success, had columnists taking the league to task over the message this suspension sent. (Their television arm didn’t handle it quite so well, to the point where another employee blasted them.) And the league itself seems utterly clueless about the message they have sent regarding their value system and their regard for domestic violence and the well-being of women as important matters (again, so did their television arm). High-ranking members of the Baltimore Ravens organization have chosen to characterize Rice’s decision to punch a woman he evidently loves enough to marry so hard she was knocked unconscious as a “mistake” and have made an effort to spin him as a good guy; this is after that bizarre press conference in May where they trotted out Janay Rice to apologize for causing Ray to punch her, and where Ray Rice said, without irony, “Failure is not getting knocked down; it’s not getting back up,” about himself.

All this is a long way of saying I don’t have a fresh take on this, just that I find the whole thing both troubling and unsurprising. The two-game suspension makes perfect sense for a league that cares about image and PR first and substance second somewhere far down the list. All I can really say is: Don’t be like them.

I find it troubling that I have spoken to men I believe to be otherwise intelligent about domestic violence and other problems women face, and how many of them think Janay Rice really does bear some fault here, how many of them fail to recognize the way abuse damages people and locks them in a cycle of fear and control, how many of them fail to even attempt to understand the perspective of women in these situations, and how many of them in general react to matters like this, or to any discussion about the levels of intimidation and threats of physical harm women live with every day, with the same narrow-minded, condescending perspective: “I’ve never seen anything like that or dealt with anything like that, so they must be exaggerating.” They might as well say “Bitches be crazy, amirite?”

Don’t be like them, and don’t be like the NFL.

The NFL will squeeze fans for higher and higher ticket and merchandise prices, they’ll squeeze the taxpayers to pay for new stadiums that will make teams even more money, they’ll sign television deals in the billions of dollars, and then they’ll lock out the players and cry poverty.

The NFL will beat their drums to make a big show of ruining a team’s season over player safety (even if an arbitrator with every incentive to rule in Goodell’s favor said the punishments he handed out essentially represented a temper tantrum on his part), but when it comes to real action on player safety, they’ll also do their best to silence the public talk about CTE and concussions and to squeeze retired players in their attempts to receive medical care and damages in their concussion lawsuit. (How many ex-players have to commit suicide in order to leave their brain to research before the NFL does something meaningful?)

They’ll call October breast cancer awareness month in the NFL; they’ll decorate everything in pink; they’ll even donate ALMOST TEN PERCENT of pink-based revenues to a charity that spends SOME MURKY PERCENTAGE of that on breast cancer research, care, and prevention! But the message from the actions of the league’s disciplinary office (i.e. Roger Goodell) is that violence against women is somewhere lower on the scale of awful transgressions than the following:

  • violence against a player on the field of play
  • smoking marijuana
  • accidentally taking a diet pill
  • or my favorite, getting free tattoos in college, while no NFL team held the player’s rights and he was not under contract or even eligible for the NFL yet

The league office was already hypocritical, corrupt, and morally bankrupt; now it’s been exposed as clueless, insular, and lacking basic human empathy as well.

Don’t be like the league.

Post-script

If I had the chance to ask Roger Goodell a question, I don’t even think it would be a question per se. Just a request for an admission. A futile request for the truth from a consummate hypocrite, sure, but a request: I’d ask Roger Goodell to admit he doesn’t care.

Mr. Goodell, admit you don’t care about the health of the players. Admit you don’t care about the players at all as human beings. Admit the conduct policy is about you being able to arbitrarily put players in their place (a bad look for a white man in a suit making money hand over fist off a labor force that’s over 70% black). Admit that this is the reason Josh Gordon will get a year suspension and you won’t do anything to Jim Irsay.

Admit you don’t care about your own hypocrisy. Admit you don’t care about the double standard. Admit you don’t care about domestic violence. Admit you don’t care about women, players, or fans. Admit the only thing you do care about is that $44,000,000 paycheck and keeping the catbird’s seat that allows you to collect it.

Well, that and the image of appearing you care.

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