And I do not beat my wife; nor do I condone the behavior of those who beat theirs.
If you are taken aback by the non sequitur, associating football with domestic violence, then you’ll understand my disappointment in the National Football League and the Baltimore Ravens for their treatment of Ray Rice, who was abruptly fired from the Ravens and suspended from the league after a videotape surfaced of him delivering a knockout blow to his then-fiancee, now wife, in an Atlantic City casino elevator during a quarrel.
Football is a violent game. People get hurt playing the game. More people are injured each year in acts of domestic violence. We leave the courts to deciding how best to respond to claims of domestic violence.
Rice and his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, were both arrested and charged with simple assault on Feb. 15, 2014. Thereafter, charges were dropped against Palmer, and Rice was charged with a more serious felony assault count. On May 20, he applied for a diversionary program, which would permit him to participate in counseling for one year. A judge let him into the program. If he completes the program successfully, the case against him will be dismissed, leaving him with no criminal record. It is a routine sort of outcome in cases of this sort across the country, especially when, as here, the victim signals an unwillingness to cooperate against her assailant.
On June 16, Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, met with the couple to hear what they had to say. At the end of July, Goodell announced a two-game suspension for Rice. Thereafter, in response to mounting public fury, Goodell announced that the NFL has a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.
In early September, someone leaked a copy of the video of Rice striking his fiancee, knocking her cold; TMZ broadcast it. The next day, the Ravens fired Rice, and the NFL announced Rice’s suspension.
The video is ugly, to be sure. As Rice said in a press conference he attended with his wife earlier this year, it reflects a 30-second interlude in his life he wishes he could take back.
Even prosecutors know that no one is the sum of their worst moments. That’s why states have diversionary programs, opportunities for those who make criminal mistakes, but pose little threat to offend again, to avoid a criminal record if they can demonstrate both that they understand the wrong they have done, and have taken steps to get the help they need to avoid a recurrence. In Connecticut, we have diversionary programs for domestic violence cases, for drug cases, for drunken driving cases, for those suffering mental illness, and for all but the most serious felonies. Thousands of people use these programs each year.
Listen to the prosecutor who handled Rice’s case discuss the reasons he let Rice into a diversionary program:
“This decision was arrived at after careful consideration of the information contained in Mr. Rice’s application in light of all the facts gathered during the investigation,” prosecutor Jim McClain said. “After considering all relevant information in light of applicable law it was determined that this was the appropriate disposition.”
What distinguishes the rule of law from mob rule is a sense of proportion, of a measured response. As Aristotle wrote centuries ago of anger: “Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”
Rice was arrested, as it appears he should have been. He was charged with felony assault, as it appears he should have been. He appeared in court to answer the charges, as we require in our republic. The state considered not just the nature of the assault, but the potential threat to the public, the attitude of the victim, and the requirements of justice. A judge then let Rice enter the program. Rice is now trying to earn a dismissal.
It looks and sounds to me as though the criminal justice system was acting just as it is supposed to act, as it routinely acts. The NFL also conducted an inquiry and it responded in a measured way.
Then TMZ published a nasty video. Goodell panicked, and, rather than demonstrating leadership, buckled under to the politically correct. I doubt many players in the league, not to mention owners, have any confidence in his leadership. Goodell is a goat, a gutless wonder, a coward.
We make celebrities of the young gladiators who play professional sports. We pay them fortunes to risk life and limb for too-short careers. We are all Romans at the Coliseum.
That some of the young men we place on a pedestal behave like mere mortals and make ugly mistakes should come as no surprise. Indeed, the surprising thing is that there is not more mayhem than is reported. Treat an adolescent as a demigod, and don’t be surprise if the young adult behaves like a tyro.
I was ill and abed with a fever when the 2014 season opened this past weekend. I tried to watch the sport I love. How absurd it all seemed, all of us huddled around an odd-shaped ball, watching young men crash into one another under a bizarre set of rules enforced by men wearing silly zebra-like costumes. It felt like a Fellini film.
But it’s the game I love. For the next couple of weeks, I will hear far too much about how the league needs to enforce standards of perfection, standards no one else is expected to meet. Ray Rice has been sacrificed to a politically correct mob.
Roger Goodell has got to go. He lacks the mettle to lead a league of warriors.