ray-rice

Growing up, Sundays revolved around football.

As a family, we gathered around the television on weekends and holidays to worship the pigskin gods in all their glory. I was raised on football and have long debated whether or not professional athletes should be held to some higher set of standards than us in the general public. After all, our boys are all but directly taught to idolize them. As fans and spectators, we provide their bountiful salaries. Not to mention the claims from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell along with every team’s management and coaching staff that these athletic phenoms are also expected to be morally exceptional.

All that being said, there seems to be a mounting disconnect between the claims of moral standards in the National Football League and the harsh, scary reality. A reality that finds disciplinary, legal and moral infractions too often overlooked or minimally punished, usually to appease the public or loosely adhere to a vague and liquid set of “standards”. Specifically infractions in relation to players and their involvement in domestic violence.

You probably know who Ray Rice is. If you don’t know him for his athletic abilities then you are likely to have heard about an incident wherein good ol’ Ray was seen on camera dragging his fiancée at the time from an elevator like an antelope carcass after physically rendering her unconscious. Footage from the incident flooded news and social media. There was no way that commish and the league would let this kind of thing happen without appropriate ramifications, right? Wrong.

Yesterday, Ray Rice was suspended from playing in two games in the upcoming season.

Two.

It should be noted that soon after to the aforementioned elevator fiasco, a press conference was held where Rice’s fiancée apologized for her role in the event. Her role. Colleagues in the NFL were quoted saying “we have to hear both sides” when asked about the incident. Then, today when the suspension was announced, ESPN took to Twitter to remind the world how productive Rice has been in the last five seasons (the tweets have since been deleted). Less we forget how great he is, right? We are living in a world where the victim of an act of violence holds some responsibility, especially when the aggressor is part of an “elite” group of people.

Goodell has consistently spoken of the “image” of the NFL and how he will go to any length to uphold said image. Two games. Players have been suspended more games for missing a scheduled drug test.

Not failing. Missing.

Or “suspicion of spilling or contaminating a urine sample.”

Suspicion.

A player was suspended indefinitely for dog fighting. There was a 6 game suspension handed down to a player for signing autographs while in college. That is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to suspensions in the NFL. All to uphold some ludicrous idea of an image. An image that all but shattered today with a two game suspension for Ray Rice.

The statement that Goodell’s decision makes does not coincide with the one that is constantly recited; that domestic violence will not be tolerated, ever. Instead, it concretes an idea that maybe committing domestic violence is not at the top of the NFL’s list of serious infractions.

To me, the most pressing issue is the message being sent to the public, especially the wide eyed and impressionable youth that pay unyielding attention to the league and its players. The ramifications of downplaying physical violence, specifically towards women, are scary. My son has been raised thus far as I was, watching football. He is surrounded by jerseys and team memorabilia. He is also developing senses of what is right and wrong. If the situation were ever to occur, how would I explain to him that the man whose jersey he wears every week physically assaulted a woman and for all his bosses and society are concerned, it’s ok?

It is disheartening to love a sport so much that from what history has shown believes that (in the ever wise words of my mother) “it’s not ok to go to the ‘scrip’ club but, it’s ok to beat your girlfriend.”

Photo Credit: AP