Inever knew how much people in the Baltimore area loved the Ravens until I came to Goucher. If you’re from around here, chances are you bleed purple. That being said, I was both alarmed and disappointed to see several Goucher students wearing Ray Rice jerseys last Thursday, the night the Ravens took on the Steelers. As a Bostonian, I’m more than familiar with having a hometown bias. I also understand supporting your team when they’re in the midst of off-the-field controversy. However, that doesn’t justify defending or supporting someone who knocked out his wife and then dragged her unconscious body around like it was a corpse he was trying to dispose of. It was a disgusting, reprehensible decision, and one that Rice is finally being fully punished for.
Unfortunately, Rice’s actions are only a part of the story, for two major reasons. The first is the NFL’s history with domestic violence, including very recent history. In August, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy was found guilty of assaulting a his then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, and threatening her life. Hardy beat Holder, threw her on a futon covered in rifles, and choked her. Three days after the NFL introduced a new, more severe domestic violence policy, San Francisco 49ers defensive linemen Ray McDonald was arrested for beating up his fiancé, who was 10 weeks pregnant at the time. Just this week, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested after he head-butted his wife, broke her nose, punched her in the face the next day, and threatened to kill himself in front of his wife and child if she told police about the assault. Recently, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson was put on the exempt list by the team after he spanked his four year-old son with a switch (a tree branch) and caused bruises on his back, legs, arms, and buttocks. These incidents, in addition to Rice’s, are just the latest in a long line of violent acts NFL players have committed against women and children
The second reason is the corrupt nature of the NFL, an enterprise so profitable (the Dallas Cowboys by themselves were just valued at over $3 billion) that no amount of scandal or controversy can seem to wrench eyeballs away from television sets on Sundays. The first video of Rice dragging Janay Rice out of the elevator surfaced in February. The NFL levied a two game suspension in July, which caused widespread uproar and demands for the suspension to be lengthened. According to a law enforcement official, tape of the second video (from inside the elevator, when we actually see Rice knock Janay unconscious) was sent to an NFL executive in April. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell claims not to have seen the second video before suspending Rice.
Whether Goodell is telling the truth or not, it’s this writer’s opinion that he should either resign as commissioner immediately or else be fired by the NFL owners. Goodell is not a man of action; he is a man of reaction. Only a tidal wave of bad Public relations (PR) can force him to make changes specifically trying to deflect and diminish that bad PR. On Friday, Goodell held a press conference, during which he stated that he does not intend to resign, and that the NFL will make every effort to “get our house in order.” He also said that a new policy regarding personal conduct is forthcoming.
For the time being, as Goodell continues to run the league and the Ravens continue their season, football fans at Goucher should support the game and their team. However, supporting Goodell, Ray Rice, or any of the other players accused of domestic violence (and in Peterson’ case, child abuse) is unacceptable. The game of football is a beautiful thing. Its culture and its leadership are not. What remains to be seen is whether the latter can be changed without altering the former. If significant changes are not made with regard to player safety, personal conduct, and leadership, the NFL may find itself not just fighting a PR battle, but a battle to stay in existence.