Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Pivotal Moment

Other people have said the things that need saying on the latest Ray Rice video evidence, and they've said it better than I could. That it shouldn't have taken the release of that video to spur people into action. That the NFL is looking awfully weaselly about what it knew when, as regards the material on that video. That a lot of smart people who should have known better said really dumb things about Ray Rice back in the day. And that, obviously, violence against women is wrong and should not be tolerated in the NFL.

So far, so obvious.

But let's remember, as Mr. Rice is ushered out of the league once and for all, that this is not a one-time incident. That the hand wringers who talk about whether the owners - those bastions of moral purity - should remove Roger Goodell for overseeing this mess in a way that brought them bad PR and jeopardized their profits, are engaged in willful blindness. 

That this has happened before.

It's happened since the original, insufficient Ray Rice verdict, with San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald arrested for domestic violence - and allowed to play in his team's opener. It happened at the same time, with Panthers DL Greg Hardy found guilty of assault and threatening to kill his girlfriend. It happened with Nate Newton and Cornelius Bennett. It happened with a league that welcomed Lawrence Phillips, who dragged his girlfriend down the stairs by her hair, and it happened with Rae Carruth. It has happened over and over again, with the perpetrators largely untouched by discipline because they could help teams win games, and because the fan base - us - never cared enough to make it worthwhile to stop sheltering this.

Kicking Ray Rice out and then assuming everything is fine isn't going to stop it. Announcing new potential penalties won't stop it either. Bungling who saw what when and making sudden volte-faces that seem more driven by PR than any moral decency certainly won't do it.

But finally, the sleeping beast of outraged has been roused by the Ray Rice elevator video. If it stays awake - if it keeps the pressure on for the next case, and the next one, and it's finally made clear to the NFL that these are not the guys we want to watch play, then maybe we'll see some real progress. That it took this long is shameful; that it took a video that told us what we already knew is even worse.

For years, the league's mantra has been "protect the shield". That's backwards. A shield protects you. It gives you something to hide behind. And for too long, the shield has cheerfully sheltered too much bad behavior by too many bad men.

Watch the video. Don't look away. Because when the looking away starts, that's when this starts all over again.
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