Thursday, October 2, 2014

The NFL Wants the Ray Rice Scandal to be Over… And So Should You

By Joe Blake

As you may have heard, on September 8th Ray Rice, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, punched and knocked his fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City Casino elevator.

Oh no wait - that happened back in February. Why are we just deciding to care about this now?

Because there’s video. Juicy, violent, indictable video (not just of the aftermath, but of the actual altercation!), which can be shown repeatedly on ESPN because it’s hardly less graphic than your average hit from Ndamukong Suh, right?

Step right up, hurry, hurry - seeing is believing folks, and you won’t be able to look away from this maniacal monstrosity of a man maliciously mauling his mirthful mate! (Okay, I got a bit carried away there)

It was a TMZ staffer’s wet dream. Everyone in the bloggersphere was completely consumed by making this face as Rice’s fist made contact with his now-wife's face and subsequently turning their gaze toward Roger Goodell hoping he’d flinch. Naturally, the NFL released a statement (because how could they not, really), and regardless of what it said, at that point it was fuel for the fire.

The frenzied sports media had already rallied behind the banners of a dozen different agendas ranging from criticism of the NFL’s handling of the incident, to their Domestic Violence Policy at large, to chastisement (or flagrant subversion) of Goodell, to blatant pot-stirring. Actually, come to think of it, almost all of it was pot-stirring.

What should have happened next was a re-examination by the Ravens and the NFL of the situation and its handling in light of this new evidence. However, accompanied by cries of “misogyny!” “incompetence!” and “kill the beast," and in what seemed to come as a complete shock to everyone in the sports media, that’s exactly what they did. Rice was suspended indefinitely by the Ravens, Goodell admitted that the NFL had handled the situation poorly, and under pressure from the rabble fans and advertisers, the NFL committed to issue a new policy addressing domestic violence throughout the league.

That’s it. That’s the whole story. Except it wasn’t. On September 12th - at the height of what had now become round two of the Ray Rice debacle - Adrian Peterson, probably the sport’s best-known running back, was indicted on charges of felony child abuse stemming from a May incident where he admitted to severely disciplining his 4 year-old son for pushing another child off of a motorcycle video game.

Blood was in the water. Regardless of what standard procedure might have been for an incident such as this, the League could not be seen softballing any incident relating to domestic violence. Peterson was suspended indefinitely (after an initial attempt by the Vikings to hold him out just 1 game).

For months, ESPN had been fanning the flames of several fires ignited by the Ray Rice incident (alleged misconduct by the NFL and Goodell in particular), and at some point the scandal elevated itself from a relatively focused recounting of facts and circumstances surrounding individual cases to “airing of dirty laundry relating to all sports-related domestic violence under any circumstances ever.”

The Oscar Pistorius case had been smoldering for months, with a controversial verdict rendered right on time. Hope Solo’s alleged assault of her sister and 17 year-old nephew was singled out as an alleged token of US Soccer’s apathy and double-standard regarding the issue (leaving out that Solo herself was an alleged victim of domestic violence perpetrated by her then-fiance in 2012). The Panthers and Greg Hardy agreed to “voluntary paid leave” for the defensive end despite previous assurances that he would be allowed to play while the legal process ran its course.

Naturally, the reactionism and scandalmongering has been encouraged by the sports media under the guise of “furthering the conversation,” which, given How ESPN Ditched Journalism and Followed Skip Bayless to the Bottom, translates almost directly to “stirring up controversy.” It’s disappointing, because there is a productive debate to be had here... several, in fact, which is part of the reason this series of scandals has resonated with so many fans.

1. Sports and sports culture correlate too strongly with violence. How can we as the fans combat this tendency?

2. Domestic violence is too often abided by most sporting organizations and their fans. How can the media help to demand higher standards for players, management, and fans?

3. Punishment following incidents of abuse is too arbitrarily applied by the NFL.

4. (That said) Domestic violence is a complex issue and can be exceedingly difficult to judge objectively, especially in 20-second soundbytes on TV. How can we as the fans ensure greater transparency, consistency, and temperance in dealing with such emotionally-charged issues?

Aside from the outright rabble-rousing, most of the noise following the Ray Rice scandal has actually been the sound of a chorus of people agreeing with each other. The video is horrific. The league's response was shameful. Domestic violence is terrible. The systemic tolerance of it is arguably worse.

The murmur being drowned out amid the uproar? The subversive fact-of-the-matter that we all know but wouldn't like to admit? Sporting culture as a whole (not just the NFL) treats domestic abuse more like an unsurprising side-effect than an unacceptable crime. Sadly, that's hardly controversial enough for Skip and Stephen A to work themselves into an unignorable furor over.

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