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Ray Rice

Ray Rice

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?

4 Responses to The Thing Speaks For Itself

  1. Cornerstone says:

    Shocked, shocked, indeed. I don’t know why anyone is shocked that you see so much aggression in football players and similar sports, but I do think the sports are supposed to be as much about discipline and control and less about uncontrolled aggression. There’s no doubt that just as entertainment professions seem to attract and produce more narcissists, indeed pretty much require it, football attracts aggression and violence and validates it in many ways.

    There’s no excuse for that type of violence. The man has a brain and he knew what he was doing was wrong. It’s always sad to watch the victim stand up for her abuser as this one has done so far. It only lends validation for those abusers out there who want to think there’s some excuse for doing what they do. In their minds, they’re telling themselves, See, she knew she caused it.

    In regard to your comments about Vic, for some time in the nineties, I did volunteer behavior work with ocelots at the zoo. Unfortunately, being a city zoo, criminals were often given “community service” there and I stayed extra hours on many occasions to keep from leaving one alone with the cats. His first day, he tried poking one with a stick. When I heard the Humane Society had agreed to take on Michael Vic as a spokesperson, I was so mad I wrote them about it. It was wrong-headed thinking. They aren’t about to change Vic’s deep-seated cruelty by educating him at this late date. All they did was send the message that anyone can turn from a monster into a good guy in six months. They completely undermined his punishment and the positive media from it is what enabled a team to feel they could sign Vic.

  2. joe5348 says:

    I am not always a contrarian, but in this case I have to disagree. First of all, we expect professional athletes, particularly football players, to build themselves up and become super aggressive on Sundays but then to calm down the rest of the week. And the way we expect them to become aggressive is through the use of supplements, both legal and illegal. Anybody who thinks that these guys aren’t on something hasn’t been paying attention. Look at pro football players from the 1970s and there is a dramatic difference to now. Beyond that, when we punish someone, there is necessarily collateral damage. Take away a doctor’s right to practice medicine and not only is he hurt but so is his family and the patients who rely on him. We should always use the least but most effective punishment. Rather than taking away his families livelihood, a better alternative might be a full explanation of all the factors that resulted in the unforgivable striking of his wife. Just to ask that players use an intellectual ability to stop emotional reactions is not really possible.

  3. I have to agree with all of this, and admit that I was completely guilty of sugarcoating (in my own mind) what might have happened in that elevator before the entire tape was released. I kept thinking, maybe she really flipped out on him and he had to fend her off and in the middle of it all she fell and hit her head and was knocked unconscious. Seeing the video yesterday left me feeling sick. And I am ashamed that I tried to justify it.
    You’re right, we don’t know what is going on in Janay’s mind. But when I read her words this morning I couldn’t help but think that she is a victim and an enabler. This whole mess is just incredibly sad.

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