Some (Possibly Unpopular) Thoughts on Rice and Goodell

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp August 22, 2009A few thoughts on the Ray Rice situation, some of which may be redundant for anyone who’s been following the story, others of which may be uncomfortable for some:

1. Ray Rice should have been suspended for more than two games initially.  However, not receiving a jail sentence or serious charges in this type of situation isn’t unusual.

I think laymen have been a little perplexed by this reality, but it does make some sense.  The general idea is that the law is reluctant to hammer someone who is a first-time offender, a previously “model” citizen, and whose victim says this was an unprecedented incident.

Now, you may disagree with this philosophy.  I’m guessing the Twitter Mob probably wants one-time offenders to go to jail for ten years or more.  But I’m merely telling you that prosecutors and judges—unless there’s some personal axe to grind—are generally not looking to annihilate guys who fit Rice’s fact pattern.

2. The video tape coming to light should have had no bearing on the punishment.

The basic facts of the incident were not really in dispute.  Rice’s now-wife came at him a couple of times, he wildly and inexcusably overreacted by punching her and knocking her out on an elevator.  The NFL knew this (more on that in a moment).  The Ravens knew this.  Rice was suspended two games.

There’s a very good argument—one with which I agree—that he should have received a much stiffer penalty from the NFL.  But, whatever penalty he should have received, the punishment should not have been affected by the tape.  We seem to be glossing over this point.

We already knew what happened.  Rice knocked out his girlfriend and dragged her out of an elevator.  Why did we need to see it on tape for him to get punished more severely?  That brings me to the next point . . .

 3. The further penalty by the NFL was a decision made out of PR-related panic, and is probably illegal.

Remember this: Before the video came out, Roger Goodell said he had made a tremendous mistake by not having a stronger anti-domestic-violence punishment policy in place.  The NFL amended its rules for such violations, creating a new (vaguely worded) policy that suspends offenders six games for a first incident, then for life in the case of a repeat infraction.

Rice, however, was grandfathered into the old punishment structure.  The league couldn’t punish Rice with an ex post facto policy.  That’s why Rice’s suspension remained at two games at the time.  As Adam Schefter pointed out on ESPN, the CBA has a double-jeopardy-like provision that would prevent the league from, e.g., banning a player for life for something that had already earned him a two-game suspension by rule at the time of commission.

So, how did the league ban Rice indefinitely?  Its argument is that the tape was “new evidence,” a shaky bit of legal reasoning that I don’t believe would hold up if the NFLPA decided to sue.  More pointedly, the reason the NFL dropped the hammer on Rice was to divert attention from how poorly it had handled the situation.  Mission not accomplished.

If you doubt that, then consider this: If a player with an otherwise-clean record committed the exact same act that Rice did tomorrow—and there were video of the incident—that player would be suspended for six games.

4. The NFL is lying when it says it didn’t know what was on the tape.

I told anyone who would listen days ago that the NFL could not possibly have been ignorant of what was on the videotape.  First, as I said above, the key facts were not in dispute.  Rice knocking out Janay Palmer was a given.  Secondly, the post-elevator dragging video had been public for months.  Most importantly, it’s implausible that no one in the NFL had access to the tape.

As we now know, it appears that’s very likely the case.  That revelation helps explain why Ray Rice is suddenly suspended indefinitely: The move was a “Hail Mary” to try to satiate the people most interested in putting an uncomfortable spotlight on the NFL for its actions during this mess.  It didn’t work.  At all.

5. Roger Goodell almost certainly needs to resign.

RogerGoodellTimeMagazineI say “almost” only because there is at least a tiny possibility that someone underneath Goodell did 100% of the bungling (or, if you prefer, “lying”).

Is that probable?  Not at all.  And the bad part is that, even if Goodell were partially responsible, or at least should be held accountable, there’s little question that facts may be presented so that someone in the league office other than Goodell can take the fall for the Rice matter.

Either way, however, Goodell likely needs to go.  Not because his punishment of Rice was initially too light, but because of issues related to credibility and authority.

For an executive who has forged a reputation (and a career) on stiff punishments and a stated commitment to integrity, Goodell has lost his ability to lead from a position of authority.  He lacks the credibility necessary to dole out such punishments.  Even though Goodell has been a very good steward of the NFL “brand” and its finances, the enforcement component of his job is just as important.  He no longer has the confidence of the public, the media, or the players to fill that role.

To name just one example—will anyone trust Goodell to make the decision as to when and if Rice’s suspension should end?  Speaking of which . . .

6. Ray Rice should—should—probably be allowed to play football again someday.

I was raised in a fairly old-fashioned household.  The idea of hitting a woman was anathema to us.  That’s an understatement.  Domestic violence is awful, and there’s no excuse for it.

But I also don’t think that one undeniably horrible moment between two drunken people that results in no jail time should cost Ray Rice his career—assuming that Rice has completed all of the necessary rehabilitation steps prior to rejoining the league, and, in addition, has had an absolutely spotless record in the meantime.

To use another example: I think what Michael Vick did was abominable.  It won’t be popular to say this right now, but what Vick did was even worse than Rice’s conduct, because Vick’s crimes took place over a period of years and required clear forethought and prolonged callous brutality.

However, once Vick had paid his debt to society, I was fine with him rejoining the NFL.

The urge to make the punishment for every crime tantamount to a life sentence is strong (and primitive), especially in this era of social media rage.  But I think eventual forgiveness for someone with an otherwise-clean record is a better path.

Again, I’m not saying Rice should have only gotten a slap on the wrist.  This was a serious infraction.  However, to reiterate what I said above: If an incident with an identical fact pattern occurred tomorrow, that player would get a six-game suspension.  Once the mob dies down a bit, and Rice puts a year between himself and the worst action of his life, he should probably be permitted to try to make a living again, just as Vick was.

7. Let’s remember the underlying reason why domestic violence is so dangerous.

Finally, a big-picture point that seldom gets discussed, probably due to concerns about sensitivity.  This is where I’ll lose even more of you (those who didn’t check out when I said Rice should be reinstated someday).

In addition to a general cultural norm against most forms of violence, there is good reason for a particular taboo against violence inflicted by men towards women.  That much we know, but I think it’s important to discuss explicitly why such a taboo must exist, and why we need to work hard to maintain the shaming and punishment of those who commit such violence.

Simply put, men are more aggressive, bigger, and much stronger than women.  The average male outweighs the average woman by about 30 pounds.  More importantly, his upper-body strength is nearly double that of a woman, and his lower-body strength is about 50% greater.  That is a huge disparity.

The point being that even a momentary loss of control by a man—one punch in an enclosed space, for example—can be devastating.  It wouldn’t be far off the mark to say that even an average, able-bodied male—if he had the level of depravity necessary—could literally kill the average woman with his bare hands in one-on-one conflict.

This is why the stakes are so high on the issue of “domestic abuse” (often really a euphemism for man-on-woman violence).  Women in such relationships may correctly and reasonably fear for their lives at all times.  This creates a tortuous daily existence accompanied by brutal psychological effects, even when actual physical violence is not ever-present.

We shy away from bringing up the basic realities of the differences between men and women because it is considered offensive to point out the physical advantages of males, but this is too important an issue not to be transparent and honest.  Women in these relationships are prisoners of sorts, which is why it is often more difficult to leave than to stay, abuse notwithstanding.  Such violence will always exist to some degree, but working together to get that number as close to zero as possible should be a priority for all of us.

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3 Responses to Some (Possibly Unpopular) Thoughts on Rice and Goodell

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