The NFL has allowed the start of its 2014 season to be hijacked by the Ray Rice controversy and fallout, and the guilty parties are everywhere you look.
Start of course with Rice hitting his then-fiancée in a casino elevator, a spasm of domestic violence that was damnable even before the sickening video shared this week by TMZ.
Add the botched handling of the whole matter by league commissioner Roger Goodell, a trail of missteps that now has him scrambling in full damage control to keep his job.
Continue with the exacerbating, metastasizing effect of media coverage and public reaction — a collective overreaction that would be almost comical if the crime at the root of it weren’t so reprehensible.
Just Thursday, as the NFL launched an independent investigation of its buffoonery in the whole matter, NBA star Paul George was hectored and shamed into deleting tweets he’d written in support of Rice, while the 49ers suspended broadcaster Ted Robinson because of supposedly “insensitive” comments that seemed to criticize abuse victim Janay Palmer for standing behind her now-husband.
Meantime, controversy bloomed — I have no idea why — over the fact the musical opening of Thursday night’s Steelers-Ravens game included a performance by Rihanna, herself an abuse victim in 2009 at the hands of singer Chris Brown. Almost forgot: the National Organization for Women is calling for Goodell’s resignation.
(I can only imagine PETA is beside itself with disappointment that the absence of a mistreated animal in all of this has prevented its own deployment of angry picketers.)
We are at a point where anyone suggesting forgiveness of Rice, or a second chance, is subject to a modern public stoning on Twitter. Same with anyone who hasn’t joined the mob after Goodell’s scalp. Enough! Politically incorrect truths must be stated:
Rice deserves, eventually, a chance to get his life and his livelihood back. What he did was terrible and deserves punishment (including his current open-ended suspension), but it does not merit the life sentence of career banishment and our perpetual damnation.
Simply put: He deserves a second chance. If his victim can give it, so should we.
What Rice and his wife also deserve, from us, is the right to mend their lives with relative privacy now and not have an incident that happened in February continue to be regurgitated and dissected in a way outlandishly disproportionate to most NFL player crimes, including other instances of domestic abuse.
As for Goodell? I’d not fire him for the lenience of his initial two-game suspension of Rice — not when he quickly admitted his mistake and enacted much tougher league penalties. It could be a firing offense if it is found he lied in saying he never saw the damning video, a claim he stands behind against recent Associated Press reports that a copy was sent to NFL headquarters in April.
The thing is, the NFL’s massive, unparalleled popularity makes it a self-sustaining cash machine for its owners, and the money will flow no matter who the commissioner is. Your favorite team, the star players, Sunday’s game, your fantasy league and maybe a friendly wager or two are what matter to NFL fans. The commissioner doesn’t. Goodell is interchangeable.
His main job is to be the face and voice of the shield, the person charged with protecting the public image of the league so the enrichment of owners might continue. It’s nice if we trust that face and voice but really matters little if we don’t. See, football is bigger than its controversies and scandals. Always.
Bigger than a star quarterback jailed for running a deadly dog-fighting enterprise.
Bigger than a champion head coach suspended a year for Bountygate. Bigger than a Patriots tight end charged with double homicide.
Bigger than Ray Rice caught on a terrible video. We get shocked and angry and embarrassed and we pound our fists. Then Sunday comes, and the games kick off, and all we hear is cheering.