Today will end the two-day hearing in the Ray Rice appeal case. Rice is seeking reinstatement into the NFL as well as pursuing back pay from the Baltimore Ravens. The NFL initially suspended Rice for two games for domestic abuse against his then fiancé. Then, upon the release of the now infamous elevator video depicting Rice punching and spitting on his fiancé, the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Rice and the NFLPA claim that the additional suspension was a violation of the double jeopardy rule that is a part of the collective bargaining agreement. I, for one, am pulling for Rice’s full reinstatement as well as collecting his full salary (minus suspension) from the Ravens.
To be clear, I couldn’t care less if Rice ever plays another down in the NFL or any other football league. (Sidenote: It is highly possible that he won’t given his lackluster production over the past couple seasons. In the NFL, redemption is saved for players who average more than 4 yards per carry). His actions were disgusting as was his subsequent persecution complex. That said, through all of this Commissioner Roger Goodell, and subsequently the NFL, failed the handling of Rice and other domestic abuse cases. Their response has by and large been focused on either downplaying or covering up their culpability from the outset.
Even the league’s most comprehensive move towards addressing its domestic abuse issues ultimately felt like one big PR move. When Goodell announced sweeping new protocols to prevent and address domestic violence, including preventative counseling for “at risk” players, a hotline for players and their family, and increased punishments for players who refuse pre-incident counseling, many, including myself, gave the league kudos for finally getting it right. A week later, the Ray Rice elevator video leaked, and it immediately felt like the league was in fact in full CYA mode and garnering support to offset the outrage.
If Ray Rice is reinstated and paid back salary, this will be the first time the league truly has to own the devil it has spawned. Yes, I understand that the NFL didn’t punch Janay Rice on a casino elevator, nor did Roger Goodell carelessly drag her body out of the elevator. The league did however, set the bar so low on the consequences of domestic violence (with a rash of other domestic incidents and unsuspended players) that they created an atmosphere of invincibility. It was Roger Goodell who had Janay Rice sit in a meeting with her abuser and ask her what punishment she saw fit, putting her in an impossible situation. It was the league and the Ravens who thought it proper to have Janay Rice issue an apology alongside her now husband FOR HER ACTIONS as if she was as guilty as her abuser. No, the league didn’t hit Janay Rice, they merely struck a blow against women everywhere while selling pink number 27 jerseys for women.
For all of this, it is only fair that the NFL and Ray Rice be made to run an awkward three-legged race towards redemption. Like any three-legged race, the failing (or falling) of one means the impediment of the other. In terms of the league taking the safety of women, who make up roughly half of the NFL’s fan base, it is an issue that the league should feel obligated to take seriously. Given the conversations about women’s rights, domestic violence, sexual assault, and harassment, we all should.
Upon Further Review is a column in which I examine off the field sports news and when possible, find correlations between sports and everyday life. It has been my belief that the world of professional sports can and has served as a sort of hyper-reality that shows real American culture, good, bad and ugly. I hope that UFP helps further the conversations and understanding of where we stand as Americans of all types.
Image by Paul Gardner