The Ray Rice Debacle

By David Murphy
Philadelphia Daily News

HOW MANY football games is a woman’s face worth? How about her dignity? And her pride? What number of football games says that a modern, progressive society refuses to accept the medieval treatment of its women?

How would you quantify it for your wife, for your daughter, for your mother? How many football games tells them that they need not spend their lives in deference and submission to those who are bigger, stronger and quicker to anger?

How many football games tells them that whatever the circumstances, an argument should never end with a woman’s head snapping backward, striking the wall of an elevator, and slamming to the floor with her crumpled body?

Consider those questions. Try to come up with a number. Then ask yourself this: How can one man possibly hold the answers to them?

Charges of arrogance have swirled around Roger Goodell since early in his tenure as NFL commissioner, when he decided he would serve as the sport’s judge, jury and executioner.

Yesterday, the untenability of such a role exploded into our collective consciousness when TMZ published the disturbing video of what actually went down behind those Atlantic City elevator doors that we had watched slide open so many times since February.

While Goodell acted quickly yesterday to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely as the Ravens released him, the dramatic reversal from his initial two-game suspension reeked of hypocrisy and self-preservation.

From an ends-based perspective, the right call was made, but it was made only after the transgression threatened to devour the commissioner himself, and not a second beforehand. And that brings us to an important subplot in this sickening ordeal: Goodell’s process.

There are plenty of reasons why codification has been a standard practice in society since the dawn of antiquity, most of which Goodell has chosen to ignore in favor of a case-by-case formulation of doctrine.

Now, as the tempest surrounding his handling of Rice’s domestic dispute with his fiancee-turned-wife swells into a full-blown leadership crisis, the NFL commissioner surely realizes that the standardization of rules and regulations serves to protect not only those expected to abide by them, but those charged with enforcing them, as well.

The problem with governing solely on precedent is that precedents are always eclipsed. Potential heinousness will always exceed potential punishment.

In some respects, Goodell’s practice of tailoring discipline to individual crimes is understandable. He has projected a desire to be constructive as well as punitive, meeting with offenders, monitoring their progress, adjusting suspensions for good behavior. Blanket policies do not always allow room for context.

Yet one of the effects of our increasingly everything-on-record society is the diminution of context.

The public sphere does not dwell on shades of gray, and a commissioner who tasks himself with protecting his league’s image in that public sphere cannot himself afford to dwell there.

What the National Football League needs — what all professional sports leagues need — is a comprehensive code of conduct that proscribes explicit punishments for specific categories of offenses.

This policy needs to be collectively bargained, publicly instituted and mercilessly enforced in the same manner that leagues currently legislate the use of performance enhancing drugs.

Every part of the policy, from investigation to discipline to appeal, should be committed to paper in exhaustive detail. With such legislation in place, any outrage would then be directed at the policy itself, rather than the person who sits upon the throne.

There was always a certain amount of irony in a man whose monarchical style of discipline had long been lambasted for its lack of due process being suddenly forced to assign a punishment for an offense that cannot be measured in dollars or football games.

Such dissonance has been on display throughout the Rice ordeal: first, a two-game suspension for Rice, then an announcement of a policy that proscribes a six-game suspension for future cases like Rice’s; then, an apparent pivot from that policy with an indefinite suspension for Rice for the same offense that initially warranted a two-game suspension and, under the new policy, would warrant a six-game suspension.

At the same time, it was also disingenuous for the public sphere to react to said punishment with such unequivocal outrage, given the precedent it had set for itself with its previous muted reactions.

In 2000, Colts cornerback Steve Muhammad was convicted of one count of domestic battery that occurred 10 days before his wife died of childbirth complications (a medical investigation blamed the complications on a traffic accident suffered after Muhammad’s arrest).

His suspension: two games.

In 2004, the NFL suspended Bucs running back Michael Pittman for three games and fined him an additional two game checks after he pleaded guilty to one count of endangerment for ramming his sport utility vehicle into a car carrying his wife, 2-year-old son, and the couple’s babysitter.

Pittman was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

In 2005, Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle was fined one game check after he agreed to probation and anger management counseling after he was arrested and charged with assault for an altercation with his wife, who was treated and released from a hospital for a cut over her left eye that required three stitches.

In 2008, Brandon Marshall was suspended three games after a series of incidents that included an arrest for a domestic violence allegation by his ex-girlfriend, a penalty that was reduced to one game and two game checks.

That same year, Seahawks defensive tackle Rocky Bernard was suspended a game after he received a 2-year continuance on a domestic-violence charge stemming from an incident in which he was arrested for allegedly hitting his ex-girlfriend in the head at a nightclub.

In 2009, the NFL suspended Giants linebacker Michael Boley for the season opener after an incident the year before in which he was charged with three counts of domestic battery for allegedly throwing his wife over a couch and shoving her into a kitchen cabinet door.

Earlier this year, USA Today reported that 84 of 688 NFL arrests since 2000 had involved some sort of domestic violence. While Goodell’s response to Rice’s crime was almost universally portrayed as “sending the wrong message,” it is worth asking what message the rest of us sent with our heightened sense of outrage over this particular assault.

How many football games is a woman’s well-being worth?

Two, unless we see her harmed on video?

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