Thoughts on Ray Rice

Excerpted from my 2014 NFL Preview

We’ve come to Ray Rice. That also means we’ve come to Roger Goodell as he is now forever connected to Rice. Before I get to Rice, I need to talk about Javon Belcher. On December 1st, 2012 Belcher shot and killed his wife, drove to the Chiefs practice facility, thanked his coaches for their support, and then shot himself in the head. Earlier in 2012 Goodell remarked:

“We are going to do some things to combat this problem because some of the numbers on DUIs and domestic violence are going up and that disturbs me. When there’s a pattern of mistakes, something has got to change.”

In August of 2012 Goodell met with Union Chief DeMaurice Smith:

http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/story/19705044/goodell-committed-to-stemming-nfls-dui-domestic-violence-arrests

Goodell’s job is to protect “The Shield.” He had already been aware and convinced that the NFL had a serious problem with domestic violence before Belcher’s murder/suicide. That could have been the moment that caused a sea change in the NFL’s thinking and actions. It was not. The reason for that can best be answered by 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh:

You can do anything in the world and you can come and talk to me and I’ll forgive you except put your hands on women. If you put your hand on a woman then you’re done in my book.”

Except that’s not quite true. Harbaugh currently employs Perrish Cox:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katherine-redmond/perrish-cox-trial_b_1322908.html

and Ahmad Brooks:

http://www.faniq.com/blog/Bengals-Player-Ahmad-Brooks-Punches-Woman-Blog-8561

Cox is a useful backup, but the 49ers could live without him. Brooks is an impact player. Cutting him would impact the 49ers ability to compete. When push comes to shove comes to knocking a woman out, Harbaugh’s job is to win games. As for Goodell, his job is to protect the NFL’s image and product. That’s why domestic violence has traditionally received less punishment than say, using Adderral, or Marijuana. So, when Ray Rice was caught on camera dragging his fiancee out of an elevator Goodell was unprepared. He treated Ray Rice as if he were any other perpetrator of domestic violence, of which the NFL has a statistically aberrant population:

http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/the-rate-of-domestic-violence-arrests-among-nfl-players/

He gave Rice the same penalty he would give, and I am using these words literally no matter how strange they feel, “A first time offender.”

It’s true, that was the first time Rice knocked out his fiancee and had the aftermath caught on camera. Somehow the fact that it was his first offense seems to be irrelevant. The ensuing shitstorm after the suspension was announced penetrated Goodell’s cocoon and he is looking at what the league office can unilaterally do to increase penalties for future cases of domestic assault. Goodell has said:

Domestic violence is not acceptable in the NFL.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but yes it is. If the perpetrators of domestic violence are allowed to compete, then it is accepted. It’s binary. Either domestic violence is disqualifying, or it isn’t.

You may have heard about Stephen A. Smith’s comments:

http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/domestic-violence-in-the-nfl

If you don’t really feel like clicking on another link, let me forward to the key statement from Byron Hurt. After discussing how coaches provoke players on a regular basis he notes that players don’t react. The only major exception was Latrelle Sprewell, who then received a 68-game suspension for choking coach PJ Carlismo. Players are aware of the consequences of attacking a coach (or heaven forbid, an owner), and thus maintain self control. However:

“In male-female relationships, however, the power dynamics are much different. Boys and men are taught the opposite about who controls the relationship. We are socialized to believe that men are superior and are supposed to reign over girls’ and women’s bodies. We are taught that men have more power than girls and women, not less. So when a woman usurps our authority by talking back, embarrassing us, showing disrespect, pushing or hitting us, or wounding our egos (especially publicly), we men maintain our control, by using physical and sexual violence. Let me be clear. We don’t lose our control in the face of women’s provocation, as men like Stephen A. Smith suggest. We exert our control.”

If players such as Rice, Brooks, and Cox were banned from the NFL, players would be significantly less likely to assault the women around them. As for Belcher, his story is not over yet:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nfl/chiefs/2013/12/31/mother-of-jovan-belcher-sues-chiefs-for-wrongful-death/4273091/

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