You have to be fair to bad guys too, you see.
If you will recall, the NFL levied a paltry two game suspension on Baltimore Raven’s star last summer, following his guilty plea for knocking his then fiancée, now wife, colder than a mackerel with a punch in her face. Then security camera video of the punch, in a casino elevator, ended up on TMZ in September, and public outrage against the NFL’s casual approach to domestic violence became a public relations crisis for pro football, which has too many already.
In response, Commissioner Roger Goodell ordered a do-over, this time suspending the player indefinitely while Rice’s team, the Ravens, fired him. The NFL’s risible claim was that while Rice had admitted that he hit the love of his life so hard that he rendered her unconscious, they never suspected that he really, really hit her until they saw the video.
Sports stars who engage in criminal behavior should be penalized heavily by their teams and leagues, to leave no question about their special status as paid heroes and pop culture role models and their obligations to honor that status. Rice’s conduct was especially significant, given the prevalence of domestic abuse in this country. The NFL, however, had its shot, made its statement, disgraced itself and let him get off easy. Rice hasn’t done anything since then worthy of punishment. The league and Rice’s team should have to live with their initial decisions, no matter how much criticism they received for them. The overly lenient punishment should stand as symbolizing how outrageously tolerant society, and especially male dominated cultures like pro football, are of this deadly conduct. Treating the video as if it constituted new evidence of something worse is unfair and ridiculous: yes, you morons, this is what domestic abuse looks like!
Rice [I originally said “Peterson” here, getting my violent NFL players mixed up] appealed through the player’s union, and yesterday a judge agreed with him, the union, and me, writing:
“In this arbitration, the NFL argues that Commissioner Goodell was misled when he disciplined Rice the first time. Because, after careful consideration of all of the evidence, I am not persuaded that Rice lied to, or misled, the NFL at his June interview, I find that the indefinite suspension was an abuse of discretion and must be vacated…I find that the NFLPA carried its burden of showing that Rice did not mislead the Commissioner at the June 16th meeting, and therefore, that the imposition of a second suspension based on the same incident and the same known facts about the incident, was arbitrary…The Commissioner needed to be fair and consistent in his imposition of discipline….Moreover, any failure on the part of the League to understand the level of violence was not due to Rice’s description of the event but to the inadequacy of words to convey the seriousness of domestic violence. That the League did not realize the severity of the conduct without a visual record also speaks to their admitted failure in the past to sanction this type of conduct more severely.”
Yup. That just about covers it.
I think it’s overwhelmingly likely that the NFL’s lawyers advised the league that this would be the end result if they tried to punish Rice for the same act twice. The NFL decided that it was worth it to abuse its power and look like it was trying to end Rice’s career so after a successful appeal, it could say, “Well, we tried to do the right thing, and that mean old judge wouldn’t let us! Don’t blame us.”
Anyone who falls for that act is a fool. The real lesson of this ugly sequence is that the NFL’s culture doesn’t recognize right and wrong, or care about either. It’s only concern is TV ratings, marketing and profits.