You probably have heard little, if anything, about the Ray Rice assault case, and that’s precisely the point.
Since Rice was accused of assaulting his girlfriend in February, the nation has excoriated and punished an NBA owner for his racist views and football players who dared to disagree with a gay football player’s choices — but relatively little has been said or done about an NFL player who is accused of knocking his girlfriend unconscious and dragging her out of an elevator.
The only real discussion the incident generated has focused on what Rice should or should not have said at last week’s press conference, not what he did.
Rice, a running back for the Baltimore Ravens, was doing damage control when he appeared at the press conference with the victim, Janay Palmer, who is now his wife. Rice apologized to the Ravens owner, to the Ravens general manager and to the Ravens head coach. He apologized to fans and to kids and “to everyone who was affected by this situation that me and my wife were in.”
Hmmm, did he miss anyone? Uh, yeah. His wife, who sat beside him, got no apology unless she is one of the minor characters he lumped into the latter group.
Then Rice committed the ultimate boneheaded comment: “One thing I can say is that sometimes in life, you will fail. But I won’t call myself a failure. Failure is not getting knocked down; it’s not getting up.”
Memo to Rice: You weren’t the one who got knocked down. Next time you repeat a coaching cliché, think about what it means first.
So, let’s see if we’ve got this straight. Donald Sterling, owner of the L.A. Clippers, has a private phone conversation with his woman “friend” in which he expresses his racist feelings and almost immediately the league fines him millions of dollars and announces his team will be taken from him. Two Canadian Football League players are fined for expressing their opinions about Michael Sam, the openly gay football player. NFL player Don Jones is fined and suspended because he expresses his disgust with a video that shows Sam kiss a man.
And the reaction to the Rice situation? No outrage. No Oprah. No talk-show fodder. No suspensions. No Sports Illustrated cover. Apparently, a charge of aggravated assault of a woman is not a hip topic a la racism, homosexuality and bullying. So far the NFL has done nothing.
Maybe, you’re thinking, league officials are waiting for the legal proceedings. They didn’t wait months to suspend Incognito, who bullied a grown man and a fellow football player who could defend himself. Rice can be seen dragging Palmer's limp body on video that has been posted on the Internet. NFL and college teams have suspended players for less until a case is resolved.
We might disagree about gays in the locker room and the correct reaction to racist comments and a lot of other hot-button topics these days, but surely we all agree about the treatment of women. As columnist Grant Doepel wrote for Rantsports.com, “We all have different opinions regarding marijuana, but I like to think our views on the abuse of women coincide. It’s wrong, plain and simple.”
We get more upset about words and opinions — which are supposed to be protected free speech — than we do about physical assault of a woman. At least Incognito picked on someone his own size, and did so with words, not fists.
Did you read what Ravens coach John Harbaugh said when he was asked a couple of months ago if Rice would remain with the Ravens in the wake of the assault case?
“I haven’t seen anything that would remotely make me think that [Rice would not be on the Ravens' roster moving forward],” Harbaugh said.
He continued, “The two people obviously have a couple issues that they have to work through, and they’re both committed to doing that .”
Issues? No, being late is an issue. Being impatient is an issue. Failing to take out the garbage is an issue. A disagreement about money or kids or whether to let the in-laws move in — those are issues.
Assaulting your girlfriend or wife is not an issue; it’s a crime. If a woman feels constantly threatened with physical and emotional abuse, if she gets knocked unconscious — that’s more than an "issue."
What will the NFL do? The league suspends players for drug violations for four games on a first offense. This is worse than that, right?
The NFL should be especially sensitive to violence against women. After Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then killed himself, Justin Peters of Slate.com researched NFL players' recent domestic violence history. In December 2012, he reported that “21 of 32 NFL teams had employed a player with a domestic violence or sexual assault charge on his record.” As Peters notes, that does not include incidents that go unreported, as is the case with almost half of such crimes. He also notes that it is much more difficult to convict an athlete in these cases compared to the average citizen. So consider those statistics vastly conservative.
The NFL gives a lot of lip service to protecting, helping and respecting women (to wit: the pink uniform accessories for breast cancer, which is as much a marketing scheme as anything else). But if it really wants to help women, it will send a strong message that says players cannot treat women the same way they treat opposing ball carriers on the field.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org