Ray Rice: NFL at a Crossroads.

First of all, if you were appalled today about the Ray Rice situation for the first time, you are several weeks late.  Ray basically admitted to KO’ing his then-fiance Janay and volunteered for a pre-trial intervention and counseling program.  Great, but not enough,  and we probably all agree that the 2 game suspension handed down by the League office was not enough either.

The TMZ video shows a previously-well-regarded pro athlete PUNCHING his FIANCE in the FACE and rendering her UNCONSCIOUS, then DRAGGING her LIMP FORM out of the elevator.  We already saw the dragging part, so we knew whatever unfolded in the elevator was brutal enough to separate a grown woman from her faculties.  Ray apologized, rather than denying wrongdoing, and because of that we blustered about his slap-on-the-wrist suspension, but also let the NFL Domestic Violence Policy reforms appease us.

For some reason, it took actually SEEING the altercation and the ensuing media firestorm for the Ravens to do the right thing and dismiss their star RB.  TMZ, in all of their scummy glory, forced the NFL and its adoring public acknowledge how serious and violent Rice’s offense was.  Simultaneously, we now must call into question the entire process by which Roger Goodell and co. “investigated” the incident in the first place.  I have a hard time believing that an internet tabloid was able to acquire the elevator video, but the most powerful man in American sports was not.  As shocking as the scene on tape is, it should NOT be the crux of getting this suspension, league policy, and the culture of football, RIGHT.  The NFL, the media, its players, and we the cheering, jersey-buying, kool-aid guzzling, masses cannot rely on security-tape footage to make these situations salient and punishable.  The VAST majority of domestic violence altercations will have no such hard evidence.  Victims are just as likely to drop charges and sit cowed at apologetic press conferences (as Janay Rice did) than they are to doggedly pursue justice and refuse to be silenced.

Whatever the proper balance is between benefit-of-the-doubt, and burning-at-the-stake is, we HAVE to find it.  I don’t want guys to be punished for false accusations of course, but there is a culture of “keeping things in house” and protecting the “fraternity” in the NFL that sometimes means deplorable deeds go unpunished.  The misogynistic undertones of demanding proof like the Rice elevator footage before relevant action is taken is shameful and impossible to ignore.  The fact that the NFL didn’t think said footage would leak and expose these deeply-rooted shortcomings is either ignorance or arrogance, neither of which are acceptable regarding an such a serious issue.

The NFL cannot pretend this is an isolated incident either.  Just days after Goodell put his new policy in place (min 6 games for first offense, lifetime ban for repeat)  Ray McDonald of the 49ers was arrested for assaulting his pregnant fiance at a birthday party.  A party attended by as many as 40 or McDonald’s San Francisco teammates.  Police reported visible injuries on the alleged victims, but the investigation is ongoing, so Ray McDonald was allowed to suit up, play, and be paid for the 49ers opener in Dallas.  The 9ers are my favorite team, but I question the integrity of coaches and management who don’t err on the side of caution and bench a player involved in something like this  until more concrete decisions can be made.  If any of the dozens of teammates at the party witnessed an assault on a PREGNANT FEMALE and have remained silent to adhere to some archaic code of brotherhood, they are cowards.  This issue is to pro football what the steroid era was to Major League Baseball.  The NFL MUST get it right.







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