Are you ready
Are you ready
Are you ready, ready
Are you ready for some football?
– Hank Williams, Jr.
I don’t ever remember a time when football wasn’t King.
Yes, there’s always been baseball (love it), basketball, hockey, and golf to a lesser extent, but football has always reigned supreme in the hearts of most Americans. In the past, the only “incidents” reported were the occasional bar fights involving players or gambling scandals. This was back in the Media Stone Age before 24/7 cable news, TMZ, and the ubiquitous surveillance and cell-phone cameras.
The Ray Rice incident is only the latest in a long line of football scandals that have tarnished the National Football League, but lately, it seems to be coming across as over-produced theater.
Act one is the initial reporting of “the incident.” Rice is seen dragging his then-fiancée out of a hotel elevator in Las Vegas. Doesn’t look good, but we don’t know what happened inside that elevator.
As act two develops, we learn a few more details that strongly suggest abuse, but this remains speculation until…. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announces the sanction against Rice of 2 games. That’s when the media comes alive, and everyone jumps discontent mode. Michael Vick was suspended indefinitely after his notorious ‘dog-fighting’ scandal. Rice is only given a 2-game suspension after abusing his girlfriend?
Deep into the second act, we now have the video showing what happened inside that hotel elevator and it confirmed the worst of the speculation: Rice is seen knocking his girlfriend down with one punch. As her head bounces off an elevator railing, she appears to be out cold. Disgraceful. Shameful. Way beyond no excuse.
As we begin our third act, Goodell is interviewed by CBS News Morning Anchor Norah O’Donnell: So did anyone in the NFL see this second videotape before Monday?
O’Donnell: No one in the NFL?
Goodell: No one in the NFL, to my knowledge, and I had been asked that same question and the answer to that is no.
In the meantime, the media has gone into hyper-drive playing the Rice video on an endless loop.
Two days after the video surfaces, Goodell announces that former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been hired to conduct an independent investigation into the league’s actions during the incident and whether or not a video, as it has now been reported, was actually in the league’s hands months earlier. Although verified by the Associated Press, we don’t really know the answer to this, because the law enforcement official making the claim has asked for anonymity, but I’m sure Mueller and his team will eventually uncover the truth in their investigation. Unfortunately, this only leads to more speculation about who knew what, when, and many, despite a lack of clear evidence to the contrary, calling for Goodell to step down.
On the sidelines, we have the outraged: women’s groups, media pundits, op-ed writers; anyone with a microphone, blog or newspaper weighs in like a Greek chorus.
Let me stop right here to point out that I am outraged, too! My question to the media: where was all the outrage when boxing superstar Floyd Mayweather, Jr. was caught up in his own domestic violence incident? According to ESPN, “Mayweather, who spent two months in a Las Vegas jail in 2012, still maintains his innocence even after pleading guilty to reduced domestic abuse charges stemming from an attack on his former girlfriend while their children watched. Had Mayweather not taken the plea bargain, he would have gone to trial on felony charges that could have gotten him up to 34 years in prison.”
What’s the difference between Mayweather and Rice? Well, Mayweather says it best in his own crazy way of defending the original sanction handed down to Rice: “I think there’s a lot worse things that go on in other people’s households, also. It’s just not caught on video…”
He’s right. There’s no shocking video of Mayweather beating his wife in front of his kids.
However, what’s particularly troubling is how an incident surfaces and within an hour or two, the shark effect takes hold of the media which promotes all kinds of speculation.
Once the latest video confirms the worst, we all circle back to the experts – legal, psychological, athletes past and present, as well as women’s groups – for opinions and more speculation, which, at this point, seems to be centering on whether the NFL commissioner lied or is so deeply out-of-touch about what happens in his own office that he’s an idiot who should be replaced.
And this brings me to one ethical issue that’s become cyclical. Big organizations like the NFL easily get caught-up in the “circle-the-wagons” defense. Pundits have already suggested that individual(s) within the organization knew of the elevator tape and kept it from Goodell so he could have deniability. Sadly, we’ve seen this with Penn State and other scandals. The theory: if we circle the wagons, we can handle the issue internally and thus, protect the game (which is really code for, protecting ourselves and our jobs).
I hope that turns out not to be the case with Goodell. I hope the evidence proves Goodell to be the straight shooter he appears to be. If not, he’s gone.
And all of this began with a very ambiguous incident: Rice dragging his passed-out girlfriend from an elevator. However, New York Times Sports writer Michael Powell said it best, “ambiguity curls up like a cat around the foot of intentional ignorance.”
A league worth billions of dollars sees only what it wants to see, until… the evidence becomes raw, undeniable, in your face.
In Rice’s case, that evidence was not only irrefutable, but horrifying and worthy of criticism on many levels.
Unfortunately, the sad reality remains that high-paying athletes and coaches are not only pampered, but too often given a pass on their behavior because of the big money they contribute to the bottom line. Remember Bobby Knight? And Indiana University had numerous reports and videos of his consistent abuse of his basketball players, and he still received a pass on his behavior, from the president of the university, no less, because of the money he generated.
The time for rhetoric is over. It’s time for all sports teams to act as Baltimore Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti who cut Rice loose from his lucrative contract. It’s time for all sports teams to adopt zero-tolerance for any abuse and it should be a clause in all contracts with players, coaches and management. It’s also time for media pundits, experts, etc. to practice the necessary self-restraint to wait for the evidence to come in before grabbing the pitchfork and going after people like Goodell.
Lastly, it’s time for the rest of us to vote with our wallets as to what is acceptable and what is not.