Tuesday, September 09, 2014

We Won't Know Until You See The Films

There are only three possible scenarios and it's impossible to say which is more disgraceful for the National Football League.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens could be lying about how much they knew about the nature of Ray Rice's criminal assault on Janay Palmer prior to Rice's two-game suspension. In that case, the NFL is a den of scoundrels.

Or it could be some league personnel knew of the video tape showing the dreadful nature of Rice's sucker punch of his fiancee and chose to shortstop that knowledge with the passive collaboration of Goodell and the Ravens. Better to let the powers that be operate on the premises of plausible deniability. Better to make it a he said, she said affair than seek out an easily verifiable truth in the interests of business as usual. In that case, the NFL is a den of foolish,.cowardly scoundrels.

Finally, the league and Ravens could be telling the truth. They had no idea of just how violent Rice's attack was until they saw the video unearthed by TMZ and were appropriately shocked and appalled, which is why Rice is now both suspended and unemployed. That's that the NFL would like us to believe, although I don't know why. In some ways, that's the most depressing scenario of the three. Cluelessness causes far more evil in this world than does evil intent.

Goodell, the Ravens and the entire league would prefer us to think that they were blissfully unaware of what happens when a professional football player hits someone until they saw it with their own eyes. If so, what the hell do they think they've been selling all these years? Every week of every season, last week being no exception, other enormously strong and fit pro players wearing pounds of protective equipment suffer serious injuries when their peers hit them. Do the men who run our most violent sport lack the imagination to envision what happened when a player strikes a woman protected only by a cocktail dress? Do they think claiming to be so blinkered makes the league look better?

Sadly, they do. Covering the NFL, I met few if any outright scoundrels and an infinite number of people wearing blinkers. They put them on so as not to be distracted by the sight of any part of the world outside the NFL.  The blinkers work well. They've helped make the NFL ridiculously rich. They've also led to the league's constant surprise at the changes constantly taking place in society at large.

Take drug use as an issue. NFL policies are based on attitudes formed by old people in the 1970s. Josh Gordon was suspended for a year for repeated marijuana use, a drug Broncos fans were taking openly and quite legally in the parking lot of Mile High Stadium before Sunday night's game with the Colts.

Read the following bitter joke on the Internet yesterday.
"Mr. Commissioner, there's tape of Wes Welker popping Molly."
"Suspend him two games, that's awful."
"Molly's a drug, not a person."
"Make it four games."

It's not that the NFL doesn't think violence against women is bad. It's that violence against women is an outside world problem. Drug use can affect (sometimes) the on-field product. Barring a player's arrest, conviction and jail time, all too rare in all domestic violence cases, the violent crime doesn't.

The blinkers kept the league from noting that much and probably most of America has come to see violence against women as a much, much worse crime than recreational drug use. The blinkers kept the NFL from seeing that most people think Jim Irsay's driving under the influence beef was a more serious issue than Welker Gone Wild at the Kentucky Derby. The blinkers keep the league from realizing that its amazing ability to control information about its own activities stops dead when it hits activities of its personnel in the 21st century outside world of social media and omnipresent video recording.

I am sure that everyone in the NFL and its media-industrial complex of broadcast partners will swear on a stack of autographed pictures of Vince Lombardi that when it comes to domestic violence, their eyes are now open wide with full peripheral vision. They'll mean it, too. Meaning to change comes a lot easier than change itself.  I'm not so optimistic about real change, because I remember Blenda Gay.

Blenda Gay was a pretty fair defensive lineman for the Eagles back in the day. One night his wife Roxanne slit his throat as he slept, and her defense on the murder charge was it came in response to repeated violence at the hands of her husband. Ms. Gay was found legally insane, and there was conflicting evidence about whether or not she was a victim of her husband,, but one would've thought that the actual murder of a player would have put the NFL on red alert about the issue of domestic violence as an institutional threat.

Gay was murdered on December 23, 1976. The whole horrible story of how the league dealt with Rice's documented case of violent and possibly fatal assault on a woman indicates how little it has changed in almost 40 years. The one reason Rice's crime was treated as a Big Deal by the NFL yesterday was because of us, not it. Society at large as represented, God help us, by TMZ, stood right in front of the league and made it do so. That's the only way the NFL ever changes.

As any trainer will tell you, the trick with blinkers is that the horse stops realizing it's wearing them.


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