After everything that’s happened in the Ray Rice business — after the months of inaction followed by weeks of outrage, after the lame two-game suspension, after the feeble response of the legal system, after the release of two videotapes, after Rice’s release from the Ravens on Monday the NFL is still getting it wrong.
Ray McDonald, a defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested a week ago and charged with felony domestic violence. There is no videotape this time (not that the NFL would rush out to watch it), but there are bruises on his pregnant girlfriend’s arms and neck.
The 49ers played him anyway last Sunday.
He’ll continue to play. Coach Jim Harbaugh said nothing has changed in the wake of Rice’s release — the team will let the legal system sort out the facts, blah, blah, blah. He borrowed this script from his brother, John, Rice’s coach with the Baltimore Ravens.
Steve Young, a law school grad and businessman, told ESPN, “Any company in this country, any big company, if that happens, they send you home. They might pay you, but you don’t play. You don’t come to work until we figure this out. It just has to be that way or you’re not serious about it.”
Meanwhile, Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted in July of assaulting his girlfriend and threatening to kill her, is playing games pending his appeal for a jury trial.
What a mess. Could the NFL have handled Rice’s case any worse if it had planned it? But it’s been a failure every step of the way by everybody. To wit:
— The Ravens’ front office and coaching staff failed to act after the release of the first videotape that showed Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend from the casino elevator. Who can forget John Harbaugh’s idiotic explanation when he said he hadn’t “seen anything that would remotely make me think” Rice wouldn’t remain with the team. He said the couple just had “issues,” as if they were disagreeing about whose turn it was to mow the lawn. This was back when everybody had access to the first video showing Rice dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of an elevator.
— Rice’s teammates trotted out the old lines about wanting to “support” him and what a “good guy” he is and how they “respect” him. And the victim?
— New Jersey prosecutors gave Rice a slap on the head with a rolled-up newspaper and a get-out-of-jail-free card.
— The NFL didn’t act for five months, but was swift to punish Richie Incognito for bullying a teammate his own size. Finally, the league acted and gave Rice that weak two-game suspension — half what they gave a pot smoker. Faced with a public backlash, NFL officials scrambled to explain that they didn’t have rules that covered this sort of thing, but then they created one that called for a six-game suspension, and later, much later, Commissioner Roger Goodell — who had been doing his best Bud Selig imitation until then — admitted the league got it wrong. But how did the league not have rules about such behavior, especially given the history of domestic abuse by its players? More importantly, why does it matter? Suspend him and then figure it out, as Young suggested.
— The media largely ignored the Rice business for months. They saved their outrage to pillory Incognito and Donald Sterling and anyone who expressed an opinion that didn’t praise the media’s “brave” gay hero Michael Sam? In the end, it was typical herd journalism. When the punishment came down, it was blood in the water. Now comes the feeding frenzy.
— Fans cheered for Rice repeatedly when he was shown on a video board during a practice session.
Now everyone is piling on. "Madden 15" is cutting Rice from its video game and stores and fans are dumping Rice’s jerseys. He is a pariah, another Lance Armstrong. Only now it seems to be a bit much, especially given the enormous vacillation and indecision of the case.
Everything changed and crystalized this week when TMZ released the other video from inside the elevator, showing Rice actually punching her.
Which begs many obvious questions. NFL officials say they did not see the second video until Monday. How hard did they try? TMZ says the league never asked the casino for the tape. Presumably, league officials never would have watched it if TMZ hadn’t obtained and released it to the public.
They didn’t want to know. This was all about public relations. The NFL and the Ravens kept Rice around because he was a commodity, then they suspended him when he was a liability. They get no points for acting this week; it was overdue and it was all about damage control. Otherwise, they would have acted sooner because, let’s face it, they didn’t even need to see the second tape to know what went on in that elevator. Which begs more questions: Why don’t people just do the right thing? Why are all decisions instead based on political expediency and public relations and, by extension, political correctness? The reason Rice got such a pass from the media and the NFL is because, as I wrote a few weeks ago, the three hip causes of our day are homophobia, racism and bullying — not violence against women.
A man struck a woman and, remarkably, no one could figure out what to do. This wasn't all that complicated.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org