As hard as I tried to avoid footage of the Atlantic City elevator where then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice leveled his now-wife, Janay, this culture wouldn’t let me. Our nation’s desire for double-outrage jeopardy eclipsed its better judgment about whether or not to wallow in the brutalization of a defenseless woman, making the clip inescapable to anyone plugged into the matrix.
I say “double-outrage jeopardy” because Monday’s release of new video evidence – and the subsequent termination of Rice’s contract by his former team – offered observers a rare opportunity to renew their latent shock and indignation, confirming visually what they already knew for seven months factually.
Which raises the question, America: what did you think the beating of a 26-year-old woman by a 210-pound charging rhinoceros would look like? And why does it merit any more indignation now than it did in February, when footage of Rice dragging Janay’s unconscious body through the elevator’s doors was first available?
The NFL arrests database features four such domestic violence incidents in the last year alone. Now, raise your hand if you heard about Arizona Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington’s felony assault last year of the mother of his child. (Anyone?) She got a broken collarbone and he got a year’s suspension by the NFL…for violating its substance abuse policy. To date, there’s been no league-mandated punishment for the assault, for which Washington pleaded guilty and is currently serving a year of supervised probation.
How about Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy’s conviction in July for assaulting his ex-girlfriend and threatening to kill her? True to form, the NFL is deferring action until the conclusion of the appeals process. Hardy recorded four tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on Sunday.
And that doesn’t even take into account non-domestic assaults like that of Denver Broncos safety T.J. Ward, who back in May hurled a mug at a strip club bartender when she tried to keep him from pouring his own liquor. Good thing he’s not a quarterback: had he been a better shot, she might be slinging highballs one-eyed. Ward, by the way, hasn’t missed a down of football.
At least the NFL is consistent, which is more than can be said for the mewling public.
Because it’s video that made the difference, and it’s what makes us all hypocrites. Hypocrites for not demonstrating this kind of principled fury whenever a story of this kind surfaces, whether it’s committed against a man or a woman, on camera or off. I’m not even advocating outrage, just consistency. Otherwise, the lesson here is, if you’re going to be a piece of shit, do it discreetly.
Imagine if there were video of Daryl Washington forcing his ex to the floor in front of their 5-month-old daughter. TMZ may have been able to serve several million more ad impressions, but her collarbone wouldn’t have been any more broken. Yet the ensuing moral condemnation would have been seismic compared with the short shrift the story has actually received.
But we’re not the only phonies. How did NFL execs, who previously meted out a mere two-game suspension to Rice, not have access to this vital footage? The answer: they probably did. Thankfully, they responded as swiftly to a problem as one can seven months later. The Ravens announced that Rice was cut from the team via Twitter, which is to public commitments to fight domestic violence what a right swipe on Tinder is to professing your unconditional love.
Of course, there’s the argument that plenty of bankers, spot welders and store clerks commit equally heinous acts and get to keep their jobs. We solicit their services every day. But bankers, welders and clerks rarely become public figures. So the hands of companies like, say, Chase, Bechtel or Whole Foods aren’t forced by the mass-marketed misbehaviors of their employees.
It’s not for me to tell you what to get outraged about. But if you’re going to feign disgust over this story and how it was handled, you now have to ask yourself just how truly committed you are to the cause.
Because this isn’t the toothless NCAA we’re talking about. College football programs operate independently, so if one should happen to go rogue, other than cheating, there’s little the NCAA can do about it. The NFL, on the other hand, is a centralized organization with streamlined policies, profit sharing and coordinated branding. Hurt one team and you hurt them all.
Organizations that err this egregiously but don’t lose profitability have no motivation to change. Continuing to support a league that openly condones the brutalization of women through paltry punishments yields the same result as remaining faithful to an actual abuser – it rewards misconduct and ensures it continues.
But shit rolls downhill. Make Roger Goodell and his front office confederates feel the pain (hey, it’s not like they’re getting punched in the face) and they’ll eventually craft policy that makes it less attractive for their subordinates to beat women.
The point isn’t to make Ray Rice pay for the rest of his life. It’s to make him, or Greg Hardy or Daryl Washington pay at all. Because before Monday, none of them truly had, and to make them do so is the only way to even begin to ensure this doesn’t happen again. People learn from their transgressions every day. Now that all of the facts are out in the open and he’s forced to confront them, perhaps Ray Rice can do the same.