By Jason Keidel
No matter what Ray Rice said yesterday, it can’t change what he did or the near-universal perception that aristocrats get more chances than we do.
But Rice made one refreshing statement: His wife could do no wrong.
And while it’s hard to reconcile that sentiment with the galling video on eternal loop of Rice dragging his unconscious wife out of an elevator, it quiets the apologists who appallingly suggested his wife somehow started or deserved the violence.
Some transgressions are so toxic that they ring louder than any apology, public remorse, or spoon-fed statement. But this whole affair was just as much a referendum on the employer as the employee.
Even if you dismiss Rice’s responsibility to fans or kids or corporations, if you ascribe to Charles Barkley’s coda that athletes are not role models, you would still have a hard time defending how the league handled this.
The last thing Roger Goodell wants is for this to become the new NFL motif, where players pummel women and get this wink-and-nod punishment. And Goodell has as much to learn from this as Rice. The NFL commissioner hid behind emissaries who defended the 2-game wrist-slap, and the laughable notion that this sends a stern message that they don’t tolerate domestic violence.
Goodell needs to jump out in front of this, and tell us why Rice gets two games while Josh Gordon gets a year for testing positive with microscopic amounts of marijuana in his system. Ben Roethlisberger got four games, yet he was never charged with a crime. Terrelle Pryor got five games for selling signed memorabilia. But knock your wife unconscious and get two games.
And then Goodell can tell us why he’s been so harsh on some players and so patient with Colts owner Jim Irsay, who got popped with painkillers and 29 grand in his car.
We who don’t play sports for a living understand that those who do operate under different climes with mutating laws. The better you play, the more second chances you get. Had one of us done what Ray Rice did we would have been fired.
But we also have an implicit agreement with pro sports that is fortified by one premise – the campy but essential ideal of fair play. We assume that some rules apply to all, no matter how distorted or incongruous they are compared to our realities.
You can decide if Rice was sincere or if he is eternally defined by his actions in that casino. You don’t hit women. He did. And, as he properly said, he will have to deal with it for as long as he lives. For better or worse, he’s one person trying to survive the storm of his crimes.
But we have every right to expect the shot-callers, from the most PR-savvy sport on earth, to realize you can’t bark at Ray Rice with your tail wagging. The punishment must be stern and the mood must be sincere. For an entity that so often gets it right, the NFL is quite obtuse in some crucial areas. They probably just hope we will move on in a month. And, sadly, we probably will.
Ray Rice got an ovation from Ravens fans when he appeared at training camp. In the military they say you salute the rank, not the man. So it is with sports, where rooting for the laundry imbues us with haunting apathy toward our stars as long as they get the job done when it counts.
Time doesn’t always heal, but it often forgets. The morbid truth is that most of us will forget what Ray Rice did and that the NFL dropped a bag of balls in adjudicating it. And maybe that says something about us, too.
Jason writes a weekly column for CBS Local Sports. He is a native New Yorker, sans the elitist sensibilities, and believes there’s a world west of the Hudson River. A Yankees devotee and Steelers groupie, he has been scouring the forest of fertile NYC sports sections since the 1970s. He has written over 500 columns for WFAN/CBS NY, and also worked as a freelance writer for Sports Illustrated and Newsday subsidiary amNew York. He made his bones as a boxing writer, occasionally covering fights in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, but mostly inside Madison Square Garden.
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