On Ray Rice Fallout: Stop needing the NFL to pass judgement for you

The media (traditional and social) landslide created by a football player’s suspension has reached Oh-My-God-Shut-Up-About-It proportions. And while other “major” events like this hog the spotlight for a time and then go away, this will be a thing for at least six more weeks and likely go beyond that. Football and the media that cover it have a way of staying relevant, and nothing makes it easier than controversy.

‘Damn, Paul, you’re so insensitive! I mean, did you even see the video from TMZ?’

Yeah, I saw it. When it came out. It hasn’t changed since then and it will never change (unless they release the unedited director’s cut that wasn’t suitable for theaters). This isn’t about whether Ray Rice was appropriately punished by the NFL. It should be noted that he wasn’t actually punished by his employer, the Baltimore Ravens, who are the ones who pay his salary. They deferred to the league to rule on this rather than upset a star player and take blame or credit for the harshness of their own judgement. He wasn’t punished by the justice system either. Not even charged. The only life sentence he got was marriage to the woman he allegedly knocked unconscious. NFL players often get called neanderthals, so maybe that’s the case here (see illustration above).

(Editor’s Note: I love being married, guilty as charged.)

No, this is not about his punishment. It’s a reminder to people that the NFL, like any other corporation, is not a moral authority–it’s a business. Stop looking for a moral stance from something that doesn’t make money off of being moral. Consider this question: If Ray Rice had been suspended for four, six, eight games or even a whole season, what would we learn that is different about the morality of his actions? The reaction is so focused on the punishment and what he deserves rather than the victim and what can be learned. Regardless of his punishment, he still did whatever he did, thus making the message to all: “if you’re comfortable with the punishment, then go ahead and do it.”

I imagine the concern here is that two games and hundreds of thousands of dollars is not enough of a deterrent, that a greater percentage of men will commit domestic violence because they can use NFL v. Rice as their playbook. I say, if the punishment is the only way to prevent domestic violence, then we’re doing it wrong. In sports and society, fear of punishment doesn’t appear to work as well as we’d think. Prisons are still crowded, crimes still happen, even when justice is served. Justice, after all, is the search for balance after a crime has been committed. Maybe it’s time to concern ourselves less with justice and more with being the type of people who don’t commit crimes.

Had the NFL sent a message with its ruling and really hit Ray Rice hard with a half-season or something that was deemed ‘enough’, how soon before another NFL player committed a similar crime? Or killed someone while driving drunk? Or beat someone up in a bar? And when that eventuality happens, what would people do? “Wait a second? But the NFL sent a message … how could this happen?” Then what?? More punishment? More justice? Instead, the NFL is deemed to have gone soft in this case, giving everyone ammunition for when it happens again to say, “See … should’ve come down harder on Rice.”

Stop needing the NFL to pass judgement for you. Stop needing anyone to do it. Right and wrong have some gray areas, but domestic violence and spousal abuse aren’t among them. It’s never OK. Remind your fans of that, not through punishment of the criminal, but through the eyes of the victim. Hitting someone can’t be bad thing because you’ll go to jail or get suspended. It has to be because … it’s a bad thing.

Think back on how basic it is from childhood: “Don’t hit. Bad. No. That hurts. Look, she’s crying. See? No. Bad. Don’t hit.” Those rules still apply, no matter how grown-up or problems are or how many adult beverages we’ve had. Yes, there are consequences to your actions and justice is important, but more crucial to learning from an instance like this is taking the time to teach why a certain action is wrong. It’s not in the punishment of the criminal. It’s in the innocence of the victim.

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