War on Women, Ray Rice edition

It’s a big day for socio-political controversy in the sports world.  Not only do we have co-owner Bruce Levenson getting pushed out of the Atlanta Hawks basketball franchise for what is billed as a racially-insensitive email he wrote two years ago, but video of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice beating his fiancee unconscious in an elevator last February has surfaced, leading to much criticism of the mild two-game suspension he received from the NFL.

As TMZ put it, when posting the video: “We’ve already shown you the aftermath outside the elevator … Rice dragging the unconscious woman on the floor.  But we’ve now obtained video of the punch that put her down, raising the question … What was the NFL thinking when it wrist-slapped Rice with such feeble punishment?”  The ensuing description of the video includes allegations that NFL officials saw it before settling on the brief suspension, although the NFL subsequently denied this:

The incident took place Feb. 15th at the Revel Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City — after Ray and then-fiancee (now wife) Janay Palmer got into a heated argument on their way into the elevator.

Inside the elevator it’s apparent he strikes first … she hits back … and then Rice delivers the knockout blow.

The punch knocks Janay off her feet — and she smashes her head on the elevator hand rail … knocking her out cold. Ray doesn’t seem phased … and when the door opens, he drags her out into the hotel. 

An employee of the hotel  — which just shut down for good — tells TMZ Sports he was working there at the time and says the NFL saw the elevator footage before imposing the 2-game suspension.

FYI — Ray and Janay got married one month after the attack.  

UPDATE — The NFL says it did NOT see the newly-released elevator footage before it imposed a 2 game suspension on Rice. 

The controversy seems like a validation of the old saw that pictures speak louder than words.  There’s no question the nature of Rice’s actions was known at the time his suspension was handed down.  We are now supposed to find that very light penalty much more outrageous because the NFL saw tape of Rice punching Palmer.  The nature of the offense is not much changed by the video, but just because there is video, it gets worse.

As it happens, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has already conceded that he got the Rice situation wrong, and announced a new policy that would impose a much more serious six-game suspension for first-time domestic abuse, followed by a lifetime ban for repeat offenses.  “My disciplinary decision led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families,” said Goodell.  He went on to speak of the “recognition that the NFL is a leader, that we do stand for important values, and that we c an project those values in ways that have a positive impact beyond professional football.”

Why would it take a massive public outcry to drive that realization home?  It seems fairly obvious to me that a powerful athlete who lands a knockout punch on his fiancee in an elevator, and that drags her unconscious body around like a sack of potatoes, has no place whatsoever in a sports league that stands for any important values.  There’s no complex cultural or political argument to be had here.  It’s just plain wrong, self-evidently hideous.  No extensive meetings with panels of experts are needed to devise a more nuanced position.  No lengthy meetings about how such incidents might affect professional football’s effort to lure in more female viewers are required.

Due respect must be given to the burden of proof, but if there’s no doubt that a player perpetrated such an assault, then there should be nothing else to talk about.  A mere “suspension” of any length is inadequate to express the proper degree of revulsion at actions we should be absolutely intolerant of, particularly when discussing rich and famous athletes who serve as inspirations to young men.  There is much debate about how strictly the NFL should intervene in the conduct of players off the field, but surely indulging domestic violence is not debatable.  Everyone should agree the NFL’s standards are far higher than that.

It turns out that many fans, and many players in the NFL, felt the same way, because as I was writing this, news broke that Rice’s contract has been terminated, and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.  How delightfully old-fashioned!  A tip of the hat to every gentleman, and lady, who knew Ray Rice’s behavior was intolerable before they ever saw the videotape of him landing that punch.