RENAULT: I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
The croupier comes out of the gambling room and up to Renault.
CROUPIER – handing Renault a roll of bills: Your winnings, sir.
RENAULT: Oh. Thank you very much.
Anyone who remembers this classic exchange from Casablanca will know how we feel about the National Football League’s response to the domestic violence affair involving (now former) Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Rice. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was shocked, shocked to discover what had happened inside the elevator at Atlantic City’s Revel Hotel and Casino once he viewed the surveillance tape he had never requested that was supplied by TMZ Sports. When other tapes merely showed Rice dragging the inert body of his fiancé (and now wife) Janay Palmer out of the elevator, he had no idea that he had just decked her cold before the doors opened. That was why he initially gave Rice only a two-game suspension rather than the indefinite one he just handed down. Maybe he needs some pointers from one of his own eagle-eyed referees.
With all that has been written about this case, a couple of things occur to us, and they are all pretty straightforward.
First, once you’ve seen the first video, you should know all you have to know. As we say in law: res ipsa loquitur – the thing speaks for itself. It doesn’t need any interpretation.
The appearance is that Mr. Goodell wished to make as little of the issue as possible with all of the scandals and medical problems his league is currently facing and get on with the business of playing football. Perhaps that is why he interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Rice together, something any investigator would know not to do, and the NFL has plenty of trained investigators on its staff. It is the same dumb-headed logic as welcoming back Michael Vick after he had “paid his debt to society” for torturing and killing dogs. He might still be an electrifying quarterback, and anyway, he was doing public service announcements for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, so all is forgiven.
Second, this is not just about professional football. It reaches much farther, such as into the realm of campus sexual assault, where university authorities seem loathe to call attention to the fact that their high-priced institutions have a real problem. While giving lip service, they seem to ignore three basic realities:
Sexual assault is never okay.
No attack is an isolated incident.
And it will not go away on its own.
In this whole sorry mess, we feel most compassion for Janay Palmer Rice, who has taken to social media today to decry the actions against her husband. In effect, she is being punished twice. We do not know what is in her mind, or how intimidated she feels by Mr. Rice or the removal of his lucrative livelihood. But while we hope Mr. Rice is getting the counseling they both claim, and while we hope there will be no repeat of what was done to her, history, numerous case studies and much experience tell us not to count on it. Once you do what he did, there must be a reckoning. Furthermore, what was done to her is a crime, and as a society, we all have a stake in that, which means we cannot turn a blind eye and let them “work it out on their own.”
Willful ignorance is never a valid excuse. Years ago one of us – Mark – worked with a French film producer named Rene Noel who had been an intrepid member of the Resistance during World War II. When asked if the people of France had known what was happening to the Jews under Nazi rule, Rene responded, “No, we didn’t know exactly what was happening to them. But we knew they were being taken away forcibly in the night, and we knew they weren’t coming back. What more did we have to know?“
What more do Roger Goodell, any college president, or anyone else in a position of leadership and authority have to know before they start taking sexual assault and domestic abuse seriously?