As a father to a daughter, a husband to a wife, a brother to a sister and a son to a mother, consider me in the camp that is downright sickened by the "punishment" Roger Goodell handed out this past week to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for knocking his fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator this past February. If that were my daughter, my wife, my sister or my mother in that video, no amount of games or money would have been appropriate. But certainly 2 games would be a slap in the face...pun intended.
Make no mistake, sadly Ray Rice is not the first person - let alone athlete - guilty of beating a woman. And unfortunately, he will not be the last - athlete or otherwise. But, thanks to the disturbing video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée out of a casino elevator and moving her around like a heavy bag of garbage, all the while looking as if he was dumbfounded that some minimum wage bell boy wasn't helping him move his piece of human luggage out of the path of the elevator doors and onto a waiting luggage cart, domestic violence actually has a face - an image...and the NFL, an image problem.
Roger Goodell, the man deemed by many as the most "powerful man in sports," had an opportunity to take a stand and send the players - and society - a message that violence against women will not be tolerated in the NFL and should not be tolerated anywhere. No other business has the ear of men the way the NFL does. No other business has the marketing clout the NFL does. No other business can impact a society by sending a message the way the NFL can. Yet the man they say "rules with an iron fist," the man "concerned" about "making the game safer" and removing the dangerous blows to the head in the NFL, and the man the players claim to be a dictator, dealt Ray Rice a financial and professional hit much softer than the hit Rice dealt his fiancée in that casino elevator.
Generally, I don't agree with Goodell's punishments. Like the players, I often believe the punishments are too harsh for the offense and I am against the idea of one person as the "be all end all" in terms of dueling out punishments. Trading college memorabilia for tattoos (while poor and still in college)? 5 games. Smoking marijuana (legal in 2 states) or taking Adderall (legal in all states)? 4 games. Getting into a bar fight? 3 games. Targeting QB's (aka, doing your job)? 4 games and 3 games. Body-slamming a QB? 2 games. Stepping on a guy in the heat of a game? 2 games. Delivering what appears to be a completely legal hit to a moving target that is heavily padded and has agreed to the rules of the game? 1 game. Delivering too many of said blows? 2 games. Heck, Adam Jones got 4 games for an altercation with his own bodyguard - sure Jones had a track record, but you get the point (if you are interested in seeing how other suspensions have fared, Deadspin put together a great article and graph). In other words, what I am saying is that Roger Goodell is telling us that trading your college memorabilia for free tattoos is the equivalent of knocking 2.5 women unconscious. Smoking a J or taking Adderall (or any other banned substance) is equivalent to knocking 2 women unconscious. Getting in a bar fight or targeting a QB unnecessarily is the equivalent of knocking out 1.5-2 women. And purposefully stepping on a guy's arm, body-slamming a QB or hitting too many guys with your helmet is equivalent to knocking 1 woman unconscious.
An ironic twist to this sad story is that all parties involved have daughters. Ray Rice, the assailant, has a daughter. Jim Harbaugh, Rice's coach and the man who deemed Rice a "heck of a guy," has a daughter (Harbaugh seems to believe the punishment was fair and the lesson learned - would he feel the same if that were his daughter in the elevator?). Hell, the man handing down the punishment, Roger Goodell himself has twin daughters and is married to a well-respected former anchor woman. In a USAToday article about safety in football, Goodell referenced his daughters and was quoted as saying:
"It's my responsibility as a husband and a father in making sure that I can do everything to spend that quality time with [my daughters], while they still want to be with Dad,...[t]hey love being with Dad and I love being with them."
I wonder if that were one of Roger's daughters in that video, would he or his wife feel two games were enough. I wonder if that were one of Roger's daughters in that video, would he believe the guy's track record and the woman's wishes should be given so much weight. I wonder if that were one of Roger's daughters being knocked out in the video, but the guy "apologized" for his actions (at least to everyone but his fiancée), if Roger would have felt two games were enough. I wonder if it were any of their daughter's (Roger, John or Ray), would their tunes change? If the answer is "yes," then Roger Goodell failed the NFL and society as a whole. If the answer is "yes," Roger Goodell failed his wife and his daughters. And if the answer is anything but "yes" from any of these men, I feel sad for their daughters and the women in their lives.
Maybe the video we haven't seen paints a different picture. I don't know, and quite frankly I don't care. Don't get me wrong, I am not condoning or by any means mitigating his fiancée's actions and her role in this situation, but 1) Roger Goodell is not the commissioner of Rice's fiancée, 2) an NFL player with the strength of Ray Rice could have restrained the woman I saw in that video until the elevator reached it's destination, at which time he could have, and should have walked away or flagged down security, and 3) her actions are for another time and another day. By all accounts, Ray Rice is a good guy. Maybe he is. Maybe he simply had a huge lapse in judgment and made a monumental mistake. I doubt it - I find it hard to believe this guy has never done this before and for the first time ever just snaps in one of the most heavily surveillanced locations in the world. But again, I don't know and I don't care. Maybe Goodell was going with precedence on this one, or was bound by the CBA. To this, I most certainly do not care.
Goodell conveniently does care when the issue at hand has the potential of benefiting him and his league monetarily - get those pink Ray Rice jerseys ready for sale for Breast Cancer Awareness Month - or when an issue could end up costing him and his league money (i.e. concussions, etc.):
"We're always going to look for what else we can do. ... We just want to do it responsibly. We want to do it in a very thoughtful way. And you've got to look at the unintended consequences of anything you do. So these things take a great deal of analysis and evaluation."
Well played Roger. But, when the issue at hand calls for a leader to have a backbone and stand up for what is right, regardless of what others think and the monetary impact it might have - something Goodell claims he learned from his father, Senator Charles Goodell - Goodell went limp and crumbled into a ball like one of the defenseless receivers he claims to be so interested in protecting.
Kevin Guskiewicz, director of the Matthew Gfeller Sport-Related Traumatic Brain Injury Research Center at the University of North Carolina was once quoted as saying:
"What I like about Roger is he's a good listener,...[h]e takes in a lot of information and the decisions he makes are informed. He appreciates that there is a trickle-down effect to the college, high school and youth levels and I think his legacy will be that across the board he cares about health and safety."
Maybe Mr. Guskiewicz believes his own words. Or maybe Mr. Guskiewicz is uttering those words because he is a member of the NFL's Head, Neck and Spine Committee and he answers to Goodell. My belief is the latter. Either way, I hope Roger Goodell is listening now to the backlash of female customers (45% of the NFL's customer base) and the male customer base with a pulse - or half a brain (probably an additional 45%) - because right now, it looks like all Roger Goodell is interested in is the how the NFL can make more money and lose less money. "A team in London? How can we make that happen? Our players are beating women? How can we sweep that under the rug." Come to think of it, maybe that's what/who Rice was looking for in that casino surveillance video. Maybe Rice was looking for Goodell to help him "sweep" his fiancée under the proverbial NFL rug so they could "protect the shield." Maybe Goodell should lend that "shield" - I mean sell that shield for $59.95 - to his female customers so they can help him promote the NFL while protecting themselves from some of the very players Goodell oversees.
Don't get me wrong, I believe in second chances. I believe Ray Rice should be given a second chance. I just don't believe his second chance should be starting in week 3, because for a second chance to be warranted, adequate punishment must be dealt out and adequate growth must occur. Maybe Rice has grown - I hope he and his wife have - but adequate punishment has not been received. I know one thing, if I were Colts owner Jim Irsay, I would feel a little more comfortable about my pending punishment - and the possible uproar from the players union - after the "hammer" Goodell brought down on Rice.
Now that Goodell has handled this situation, he can back to ruling with an iron fist on the important things... like outlawing dunking the football over the goalposts.