BY JENNIE MCNULTY
This is starting to become the never-ending story. I have started to write this about four times now. Every time I do, more disturbing news from the NFL comes out and I have to start all over. But, with all these guys not playing, I might have a spot on an NFL roster soon.
This blog was initially about the Ray Rice situation, then there was outcry about if and when the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell saw a rather disturbing video clip from that same incident.
That led to draft No. 2. Then 911 audio tapes were (re)aired from Carolina Panther’s Greg Hardy hitting his then-girlfriend, a crime for which he was arrested, convicted by a judge and released (and playing) after his request for a jury trial. Draft No. 3.
Then a Minnesota Viking running back, Adrian Peterson was indicted for child abuse for “taking a switch” to the legs and backside of his 4-year-old son. And, in between all this there’s Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49er’s, who hit his pregnant wife and is still playing because I’m not even sure why.
Please, guys, stop.
I have an article to write. Seriously, it should be simple. Unless you’re facing serious harm, no one should hit another person. Period. That is not complicated at all. But, these situations are. And, maybe, just maybe, some good can come from all of this.
First let’s take Ray and Roger. In case you haven’t heard of this story, a while back Baltimore Raven Ray Rice and his fiancee (now wife) were at a casino. They were drunk, arguing, spitting on one another and, inside the elevator, she lunged toward him and he slugged her, hitting her hard enough to slam her into the side of the elevator causing her to fall, unconscious, to the floor. He awkwardly dragged her out of the elevator and the police were called. He was arrested and sentenced to only a “How to Not Hit Your Wife” class because he was a first time offender and she wanted things dropped. The NFL suspended him for two games as called for by what then served as their domestic abuse policy.
There was some outcry about the short length of his suspension, which was handed out in July. But, what really raised the ire of the average fan was in late August when another player, Josh Gordon of the Cleveland Browns, was suspended for the entire season for failing his 4th drug test for marijuana. Honestly, I believe the anger was more about the severity of Gordon’s sentence than the leniency of Rice’s. In any case, while many fans and several women’s groups protested, two games was all Rice was going to sit out. Commissioner Goodell did, however, change the domestic abuse policy and increase the suspension to six games. There are 16 games in the regular season, so not even half of them.
That is until the entire video was released by TMZ. Initially, the only video seen was from outside the elevator where Rice was seen trying to drag his unconscious fiancee. When the video from inside the elevator came out, showing Rice’s blow to her face, the proverbial shit hit and fans were outraged. Ray Rice was cut from the team and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Roger Goodell said he never saw that video. An unnamed source a day or so later said the video from inside the elevator was sent to an NFL employee. A voice recording from a number inside the NFL offices did indicate it was seen and found it “terrible.” When did Goodell see it? Was he lying? Should he be fired?
I think Goodell should go. He should be fired for not taking an appropriate stance against this kind of violence in the first place. It is immaterial if and when he saw the video from inside the elevator. He should not have to SEE it to know what it is. And, neither should we.
To say that it’s different now that we’ve seen that grainy TMZ-watermarked footage is hypocritical. There are too many “Law and Order,” “Criminal Intent” and “It Don’t Get No More Graphic Than This” shows on TV for us to say we only now know what it looks like. What did people think domestic violence is, a “yo mama” joke and a tittie twister? No, it’s what leads to the death of nearly 4,000 women each year. It is violent. Do we need to see it to accept it is a horribly brutal thing?
But, here’s why I think Rice should probably still be allowed to suit up this season. He was arrested for and admitted to domestic abuse and he should be punished accordingly by both the law and the NFL. The law put him in a pretrial intervention program, which, upon completion, will result in the charges being dropped. The league gave him the (inexcusably low) two-game suspension. So, let him serve it or the new six-game policy. To arbitrarily suspend him because his act was seen and the public was upset seems hypocritical? They knew what he did and all the relevant facts when they suspended him-whether or not they saw the video. Make an appropriate policy, do what it states and get him help. If that’s an entire season, then so be it. Use this to call attention to this brutal epidemic. To sever all ties with these men who we pay handsomely for their brutality and not get them help is hypocritical and short-sighted. We have fostered their violence. We praise their toughness. We excuse all of their bad behavior as soon as they start showing athletic prowess in junior high. Now, when we see something they did wrong, we react? I think we, the public, are being insincere. Domestic violence is a learned behavior. It won’t stop by cutting these men and never dealing with them again. Suspend them, make them speak to other men, help them stop the cycle of violence.
Enter Adrian Peterson. He has been indicted for child abuse. He admittedly “took a switch” to his four-year-old son. Disturbing photos show severe lacerations to the boy’s legs and buttocks. Again, uproar.
He was suspended from his team, turned himself in, and admitted he was wrong and that he has now learned in therapy that there are “alternate ways of disciplining a child.” A couple days later, he was reinstated. Many athletes and others have said that “getting a whooping” was how they were disciplined. Charles Barkley, an outspoken former NBA superstar said, “We spank kids in the south. We all grew up in different environments. Every black parent in my neighborhood would be in trouble or jail under these circumstances.” It’s a point many are making. Peterson himself said that the “discipline instilled in me by my parents and other relatives has a great deal to do with the success I have enjoyed as a man.”
Where is the line drawn between discipline and abuse? Surely, somewhere between a “time out” and the use of a tree branch. Again, punish by law and league, but use this nationwide attention to move forward.
The NFL has formed a “Domestic Abuse Task Force” with three women serving as advisors. Radisson Hotels have pulled their support from the Minnesota Vikings. Nike has pulled Peterson jerseys. Visa, McDonald’s, Campbell Soup and Anheuser-Busch have told the NFL they’re “disappointed and deeply concerned.” Not exactly pulling their money, but, come on, we’re still watching, they’ll still be selling. But it’s a start. And, it’s what it’s going to take to make a change. Maybe these horrible incidences can raise awareness and lead to real change not only in the NFL but in society in general. This is not just a problem for the NFL. It is often the world of sports that puts issues in the forefront of national consciousness.
Oops, thought I was done. How many times will this piece change? Around 2am Eastern on September 17, Adrian Peterson was placed on the “Exempt-Commissioner’s Permission list” by the Minnesota Vikings. I’ve never even heard of that list, but it means he can’t play. This is coming shortly after the Governor of the State said he should be suspended and the aforementioned businesses spoke up.
Apparently, public pressure can stop even the best of running backs. Later that same day, Greg Hardy was also placed on the exempt list. Neither man can have anything to do with the team, but they will still receive pay. And, hopefully, counseling. AND, Ray Rice is appealing his suspension. The player’s union is taking the angle that Rice cannot be punished twice for the same crime (the point I was making earlier). I suppose it’s kind of ironic, if all these other guys can’t play and the man whose story started all this is back in uniform. That’s it. I’m stopping. This article has become a short novel and I think I have carpel tunnel.
Bottom line: People, don’t hit each other. Get help and stop the cycle of abuse.
In case this tome was not enough: Erin Foley and I talk football (and a little Ray Rice) on her recent podcast episode of “Sports Without Balls.”