Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Charges against Rice raise questions about NFL policies

MADISON OCHS  ’18

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Just one week ago, football enthusiasts and casual sports fans alike were glued to their televisions after a shocking breakthrough in the supposedly closed case of Ray Rice’s aggravated assault. The Baltimore Ravens running back had been previously charged with aggravated assault against his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, at an Atlantic City casino. Charges were dropped after Rice agreed to attend counseling, and the National Football League (NFL) suspended him for two games. The NFL fan base was split on the issue of whether this was sufficient punishment—several Internet memes poked fun at the NFL’s disciplinary system, saying that if a player were to choose one rule to break, domestic abuse would be the best one. Why? Historically, players accused of such violence and degrading acts saw very minor repercussions from the NFL.

As time passed after the date marking his original suspension, Ray Rice faded into the background and other stories began redirecting the attention of the media.

Just days after the start of football season, however, celebrity news website TMZ released a horrifying video of Rice and Palmer alone in an elevator. The video shows Rice winding up and punching Palmer in the face, full force. She drops to the ground immediately, and Rice ends up dragging her limp, unconscious body out of the elevator. The video caused an uproar, and the Baltimore Ravens terminated Rice’s contract. Shortly thereafter, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell smartly chose to suspend Rice indefinitely, saying that the video changed matters and that he had not known the extent of the crime beforehand because he had never seen the footage.

Sadly, these auxiliary consequences have come far too late. In a recent poll by ESPN, 55 percent of interviewees thought that Roger Goodell was lying when he said he had never seen the elevator footage. Would it be a surprise? The NFL has a long history of providing millions of Americans with incredible games and events. Sadly, it also has a history of handling domestic violence and abuse with such minimal competency that the issue seems to almost not matter at all to the organization.

Following Rice’s time in the spotlight, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy’s previous criminal record was called upon as further evidence of the NFL’s complete and utter failure to deal with such serious matters. Prior to the Panthers’ decision to deactivate Hardy during his case’s legal proceedings, Sportsillustrated.com released an article on Friday, Sept. 12 titled, “If there were a Greg Hardy video, would Greg Hardy be playing Sunday?” The question is a valid one. While each situation may have slight distinctions, how different can the two crimes be?

Sadly, these are not the first such stories to come into the mainstream press, especially not the first ones from the NFL. Jerry Jones, owner, president, and general manager of the most valuable NFL team, the Dallas Cowboys, was accused of sexual assault just a few days ago. Ray McDonald, defensive tackle for the San Francisco 49ers, was arrested on suspicion of domestic abuse against his 10-week pregnant fiancée. Earlier this year, former NFL star Darren Sharper was accused of having drugged and raped numerous women all over the United States. Each of these shameful stories occurred in the past nine months. Countless others can be found easily, each of them more upsetting than the next. According to fivethirthyeight.com, the NFL’s relative arrest rate for domestic violence is 55.4 percent, and domestic violence arrests account for 48 percent of the total number of NFL arrests for violent crimes.

The questioning title of the Sports Illustrated article poses a real and serious query to the NFL, and to the public: is domestic violence getting the attention it deserves? Or is it ignored until depressing, horrifying stories, images, and videos are blasted across the Internet and onto televisions, forcing people to witness the disregard for human life that comes with any form of domestic or sexual abuse?

When asked his opinion on the Rice video, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees explained, “Everyone deserves to be held accountable for their actions because certainly that is the expectation for players.” Shouldn’t that be the same mindset everyone has about these types of issues? Domestic abuse and sexual violence are preventable, and yet day after day people are bombarded with stories about terrible, heartbreaking crimes such as those committed by the aforementioned professional athletes. The conversation must not stop with Roger Goodell and the NFL, however. It is the responsibility of each and every able-bodied American to try to put an end to such terrible actions. President Berger-Sweeney has started the Sexual Assault Response Team, and numerous groups on campus are doing their part to keep people working toward ending this epidemic of domestic and sexual violence. Inside the bubble of Trinity College it is all too easy to let headlines and news stories fade to the background and take the backseat to Yik Yak and late-night dorm gossip. As the next generation of adults and leaders, however, this needs to change. The sad truth is that it will seem distant and inconsequential until it enters one’s own life, and by then the damage is done.

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