Sonny Sachdeva, September 18 2014 —
The National Football League has come to a crossroads.
After a video showing Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice assaulting his wife Janay Rice emerged, knocking her unconscious, shockwaves reverberated around the league. This prompted a long overdue discussion about the NFL’s stance on domestic abuse.
Rice, a Super Bowl champion only two years ago, was arrested earlier this year after the assault occurred in an Atlantic City casino elevator. News of the scandal broke after video of the incident emerged showing Rice drag his wife’s unconscious body from the elevator, leaving her lying on the ground. In response, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punished Rice with a two-game suspension.
The scandal caught fire again this month when more footage of the incident was made public by TMZ. The fallout was quick and severe. The Baltimore Ravens, with whom Rice played his entire NFL career, immediately terminated his contract. Goodell later issued Rice an indefinite suspension.
Often in the NFL, stories about horrible incidents like this surface, and the punishment almost always seems far too mild.
Rice’s situation serves as a prime example. Despite a clear and brutal offence, the punishment handed down by Goodell was merely an order to miss two games of a long season — a punishment half as long as what is handed down when violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
And yet, the NFL seemed to turn a corner by revising their stance on domestic abuse in the wake of Rice’s incident, implementing a new, harsher suspension policy. First-time offenders receive a six game suspension. There’s now a lifetime ban for anyone who repeats. It seemed as though Rice’s story had helped set the league’s moral compass straight, guiding them back towards the ethical standards of any reasonable thinker.
However, as I’ve followed this story it’s become clear that any progress made by the NFL has come about at the last minute and only for public relations reasons.
An Associated Press report surfaced claiming the NFL and Baltimore Ravens had footage of Rice’s incident for months before it was public. This implies that the Ravens and league had no problem allowing Rice to remain in the NFL before the public knew what occurred.
Additionally, despite Goodell’s promise that the NFL would now get tough on athletes who commit domestic abuse, two players who clearly fall under this category were allowed to suit up and play in game one of this season.
Ray McDonald, defensive end for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested for assaulting his pregnant fiancée three days after Goodell’s speech about the league’s revised policy. Greg Hardy, defensive end for the Carolina Panthers, was recently found guilty of beating and threatening his wife. Yet, they both continue to play. Because these two cases have not amassed the same level of public outcry as Rice’s case, the NFL did nothing, allowing McDonald and Hardy to carry on as if nothing has happened.
Playing professional sports is a privilege. It takes years of sweat, dedication and sacrifice, but at the end of the day, it’s a privilege to walk out onto that field, play in the massive spotlights and take home a million-dollar paycheck.
If you’re given this golden ticket into the life of a pro-athlete, you should immediately adopt the responsibility that comes with that — the responsibility to devote all that you have to ensuring you don’t endanger that opportunity. By allowing these players to commit such heinous acts with little consequence, we allow them to shirk responsibility and take for granted the opportunities given to them.
The problem isn’t only in the NFL. Rather, it lies in the clouded line between genuine humanity and fandom. When we begin to view these athletes only through the world of sports, rather than as members of our society, we then find ourselves off-balance.
We’re simply too willing to forget. We ignore Ray Lewis’ murder trial, because his pre-game dance is iconic and he could tackle with the best of them. We’ll end up letting Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges go, because no one is better at embarrassing defences en route to the endzone. We allow these athletes to go on unchecked, because we value the entertainment they provide us when they’re on the field.
At some point, basic humanity must come first — before football, before sports and before entertainment. Not only should we view professional athletes as people held to the same ethical standards that we are, regardless of their statistics or highlight reel plays, but the sporting community, the NFL and Roger Goodell should too. Without a true effort to curb behaviour, put into place without regard for how it may damage the on-field product, nothing will change.
The time has come for the league, for the sport and for us to decide how we view these athletes, how we judge them and how we praise them. At some point, we must take the whole into consideration and not just the part. At some point, everything else must come first.