Football is a violent sport. It's a recreation that allows men of various sizes to pound each other into oblivion for months on end, or to run away from one who might pound them into oblivion. It's rough, it's gritty, and by golly it's American.
But even at it's most malicious, football isn't barbaric in every sense of the word, a point evidenced by the need for a strong helmet, pads fortifying all major bones in the body, and (sometimes) strictly enforced rules that help protect the men from injury. Yes, the very men intent on crushing one another like a meandering roach scurrying across a kitchen floor.
So it wasn't with complete shock that Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the National Football League, lowered his legislative hammer on the New Orleans Saints a few years back for allegedly offering players incentives for injuring certain players from other teams. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire year, and some players were fined and/or suspended for some games. Clearly, Goodell wasn't in favor of anything putting players in danger. The players that wear hundreds of dollars worth of protective equipment to keep them from danger.
If we can now years later reflect on that decision to lower the boom on the Saints, then fast forward back to the past few weeks in NFL cultural notoriety, we find a glaring pothole along the way. One that doesn't just create a speed bump on the road of moral decency but rather blows out a tire of puffed up pretension.
The shortened video many of us saw months back of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancée from a casino elevator seemed damning enough for a certain lengthy suspension for Rice if not time in jail. The fact Rice confessed to knocking his lover out cold a la Heavyweight boxing style all but cemented a harsh sentence from Goodell.
But this, this is America. Home of the free and disingenuous. The brave and the cowardly feeble. Home of innocent not until proven guilty, but guilt proven via videotape.
Roger Goodell, the man who throws around four-game suspensions to players testing positive for Flintstone vitamins surely was under the influence of something himself when he gently swatted the wrist of Ray Rice, handing him a two-game suspension for beating his fiancée.
If that sounds asinine, if it comes across crass and full of injustice, that's because it is. It was. The public outcry then was a mere whisper compared to what was to come just weeks later.
The extended videotape, one recording the whole horrific scene from inside the casino elevator showed with graphic detail what we already knew happened. Rice punched his fiancée twice, knocking her to the floor unconscious causing Rice to drag her body carelessly into the hallway while security personnel arrived.
Those actions earned Rice a two-game suspension. One-eighth of a season missed. 120 minutes of football unplayed. A man beats his wife and gets two weeks unpaid leave.
Making a mockery of justice is one thing. Handing out lighter sentences based on reasonable appeals can equalize the sins of a player. What happened in the Ray Rice situation was beyond a mockery of justice, it was a slap in the face of women who have already been slapped in the face. It was a swing and miss at swift justice. And for Roger Goodell and the NFL, it has become a PR nightmare.
That nightmare won't be coming to an end anytime soon. After claiming he had not initially seen the videotape of the entire incident involving Rice when handing out the suspension, multiple reports are saying that Goodell either did see it and lied about it or at the very least had access to it (that he denied having) and simply refused to watch it. If any of that is really true, Goodell has little choice but to step down.
But then add in the Baltimore Ravens organization who now reportedly had knowledge of the video tape but refused to watch it. Team owner Steven Bisciotti admitted he should have done more to obtain the tape. Regardless, team VP Ozzie Newsome has publicly stated that Ray Rice told him exactly what happened that night in the casino.
Multiple questions arise among this dumpster fire of a scandal, few bigger than the obvious: why does it take an explicit video tape of a domestic assault to throw the book at a player, especially when he admitted to doing everything the tape showed? Are we rewarding a wife beater for his honesty? Are we content with slamming players for failed drug tests, but granting leniency for punches thrown at a woman?
Why did the NFL and, for that case the Baltimore Ravens not fight like hell with lawyers to see the videotape? In an age where perception is reality more than ever, why would a team even risk a whole carton of eggs on their face? Due diligence would have kept the organization from becoming a punching bag like Roger Goodell has become.To their credit, coach John Harbaugh expressed a desire to cut Rice after learning of the assault. Unfortunately, it sounds like he was the only one.
What will the repercussions be from all of this? For the Ravens? Goodell? Ray Rice? Michael Vick was pushed from the league for years for taking part in a dog fighting ring. Much of that time was spent in prison, but the league still distanced themselves from him long enough to be hailed as canine heroes. How can they fail so miserably when its a woman, not a pit bull, being roughed up? Things are smelling rotten around the league. Goodell and Bisciotti are coming across like smug mobsters, unwilling to be deterred from their Goliath-sized paychecks.
What is ESPN's role in all of this? They've uncovered some interesting stories that paint a disturbing picture of an alleged cover-up by the Ravens and a pathetic investigative process by the NFL. Yet at the same time, they turn around and suspend famed columnist and podcast host Bill Simmons for calling for Goodell to step down, a suspension that happens to be longer than the one Ray Rice was given initially.
The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The NFL, like many other organizations, will celebrate it with teams wearing pink accessories with their uniforms, pink t-shirts handed out at games, and probably cheerleaders dancing with pink pom-poms. But in a season where the NFL is sporting black eyes in terms of public scrutiny and bailing sponsors, how will they legitimately celebrate and honor women when they've so callously turned a blind eye to the sensitive topic of domestic abuse?
It will prove an era of hypocrisy in the truest form. One from which Roger Goodell cannot hide. One that should ultimately cause the end to a commissioner who is either alarmingly aloof or worse, methodically evil.