The last time I posted a blog entry, the sports world was blowing up in outrage over a meager two-game suspension for an NFL player accused of domestic violence. Radio and television shows, print media, and the internet were engaged in a massive debate over whether or not two games was fair punishment for Ravens running back Ray Rice. Six weeks ago, the only video evidence available to the public was one that revealed the aftermath: Rice dragging his unconscious fiancee’ out of an elevator. That’s all we could see with our own eyes. The details of the incident were reported by multiple outlets, including NFL insiders. In fact, I used those reports as I talked about this case on my radio shows and in this blog. Rice was charged with felony assault after he punched his now-wife Janay in the face, knocking her out cold. We heard the details from others; we read them in print or on the web. But 99% of us couldn’t see the violence with our own eyes…until today. The reports can no longer be disputed. Those who defended, justified, or excused Rice and the NFL’s weak response are now silent. Seeing is believing.
After this new video was published by TMZ, the reaction was swift. Within hours, the Ravens cut Rice. The league followed suit by suspending him indefinitely and prohibiting other teams from negotiating with him. Once again, radio and TV shows, print media, and the internet are blowing up. This time, the chorus of voices is disgusted, shocked, infuriated, repulsed, enraged, nauseated, offended, saddened, and appalled. While I can appreciate and understand these feelings after watching the footage, a gruesome video shouldn’t be necessary for the NFL, the Ravens, and football fans to take a stand against domestic violence. As much as the elevator video makes me sick to my stomach, Ray Rice was dead wrong BEFORE we saw it. So why did it take so long? Why did it take another six weeks for the REAL hammer to drop?
The move by the Ravens to cut ties with Rice is the first and only move they’ve made to discipline him. According to CBS NFL Insider Jason LaCanfora, team officials knew exactly what happened inside that hotel elevator in February because Rice told them. He was forthcoming with them, so they didn’t see anything they didn’t know about already. Until today, the front office and staff were unified in their support of Rice. They pointed to his track record, his contributions to the community, his contrition, and his commitment to counseling with his wife. But as soon as the video was released, it “changed things.” That’s what coach John Harbaugh said in his comments to the media after Rice was cut. Yes, the video DID change things: it whipped the public into a frenzy and made the Ravens the target of intense criticism and scrutiny. The video did NOT change their scope of information. They already knew Rice punched his wife and knocked her out cold. However, even though it smacks of hypocrisy to take a stand and cut him NOW, it’s a move made better late than never.
The NFL is facing more pressure of its own, despite suspending Rice from the league indefinitely. Roger Goodell’s office claims no one saw the video before it was posted online, but that explanation isn’t likely to satisfy the masses. More than one NFL reporter indicated Goodell had access to the full video before handing down the original punishment. Since I believed what I read and heard, I told my radio listeners that NFL officials saw it. But even if those reports are incorrect, there’s no way Goodell didn’t know specific details. If the authorities, the Ravens, and members of the media knew, the NFL also knew…or should have. The league conducted its own investigation by talking to the Rices, the Ravens, and the police. We already had the footage of Janay being dragged unconscious out of the elevator. She certainly didn’t knock herself out. As terrible as it is to see the violence on tape, Roger Goodell can’t possibly be surprised. I wasn’t. I already knew what happened, and I’m just a radio host. The reports were 100% accurate, but only NOW is the NFL showing zero tolerance. To his credit, the Commissioner has instituted a new domestic violence policy that mandates a six-game suspension for first-time offenders with indefinite suspension and a possible lifetime ban for repeat offenders. Not sure where Rice fits under this policy: this is his first offense, but he’s now suspended indefinitely. It doesn’t make much sense, but no doubt the NFL was reeling in the wake of the video and scrambling for the appropriate response.
Sadly, only after seeing did the NFL and Ravens truly believe. My sincere hope is next time, they don’t wait for backlash or outrage or video but take a stand initially. Be proactive instead of reactive! We shouldn’t require video evidence as a catalyst to recognize domestic violence as appalling and indefensible. The football powers that be are saying the right things now, but how much has actually CHANGED in the last six weeks? Pro Bowl defensive lineman Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting and threatening a former girlfriend this summer, yet he continues playing for the Panthers. He’s appealing the judge’s ruling and wants a jury trial, but he was already convicted and given a suspended jail sentence. I can’t help but wonder why the Panthers and the NFL don’t act in his case. I want to be optimistic. With all the dialogue and debate and decisions made (albeit late) regarding Rice, I want to believe we’ve turned a corner. But seeing is believing, so I’ll watch and wait.