Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What I've Realized about the NFL in the Ray Rice Abuse Scandal

Perhaps one of the hottest topics right now is the Ray Rice suspension. For those who haven't heard or taken the time to follow what has happened, let me recap. Ray Rice was a star running back for the Baltimore Ravens and three-time Pro Bowler as well as Super Bowl champion. Up until recently, Rice has been considered a stand-up guy who never had any run-ins with the law or made any crazy, controversial statements. This all changed earlier this year when a security video at a casino showed Rice and his then fiancee, Janay Palmer, enter an elevator, apparently arguing, only to exit with him dragging her unconscious body. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, suspended Rice for two games because it violated the player code of conduct clause (yeah, that actually exists). The incident occurred in February, and by March, Ray and Janay married by pushing up their initial wedding date. After some pressure from society about the leniency in Goodell's action or inaction, Rice was then suspended for the maximum six games but remained on the Baltimore Ravens roster. In the early morning hours of Monday, September 8, TMZ obtained the video footage from inside the elevator which depicts the physical altercation that took place between Ray and Janay. As soon as the video surfaced, the NFL suspended Rice indefinitely and the Ravens terminated his contract.

The Beginning and the First Video
When the story first broke and the only evidence was the footage outside of the elevator, the Ravens defended Ray Rice, and head coach John Harbaugh referred to him as a stand-up guy. Many Ravens fans who didn't want to believe that their favorite player could have been caught in a domestic dispute. They wanted to believe that it must have been an accident or misunderstanding. After all, there hadn't been any indication throughout Rice's career or even in his college days that indicated that he had violent tendencies. I was listening to Damon Amendolara (@DAonCBS) on the DA Show on CBS Radio, and I agreed with him that there is nothing wrong with giving your favorite player the benefit of the doubt. For a lot of fans, this was somebody you rooted every Sunday for and watched with wonder as he blew the competition away and almost defied the odds considering his size. I don't think they were necessarily turning a blind eye, but I think those fans just wanted to hear the whole story.

For me, I felt that the facts were: 1. They entered the elevator in a heated debate. 2. Rice exited the elevator while dragging Palmer's body. Because there was a noticeable absence of panic and a need for an ambulance because his fiancee fell unconscious, given those facts, I believed the allegations of abuse. I mean, let's say I was arguing with a friend in an elevator, and if I really didn't touch her, but she lost consciousness and fell on the floor, I would be trying to do CPR, calling for an ambulance, and be in an absolute panic as to what medical condition would have put her in this state. If he had at least been concerned that the supposed love of his life was face-planted on the ground, I might have thought, maybe she tripped or something. Maybe. But he was cool as a cucumber and even kind of nudged the body with his foot. For me, I felt that it was apparent a physical altercation must have occurred inside the elevator which ended with her on the floor. This sure sounds like a domestic violence case, and this is exactly what the police concluded.

Okay, so a player that was once thought of as a good man is now charged with hitting his fiancee, which is definitely not acceptable. And when the NFL was supposed to punish Rice for violating the good conduct clause, Goodell only suspended him two games. This outraged not just sports fans but also society because domestic violence is a cultural problem. Major new sources began to cover the story and weigh in with opinions. It was ridiculous to think that Rice was only being suspended for two games. It was a joke. The NFL appeared to not care about women and did not take domestic abuse seriously. Phil Taylor's column "Message Unsent" in Sports Illustrated's August 4, 2014 issue had an excellent point that "[n]othing in Goodell's words or actions conveyed a sense that he was disgusted. Hows is anyone supposed to believe that the league truly cares about the welfare of its female fans after this? Putting players in pink cleats during Breast Cancer Awareness month suddenly seems like cynical pandering." He is exactly right. Goodell's lenient sentencing for Rice demonstrates that there is a disregard for women. And having players don the pink gear is going to look like nothing more than a farce. This is also conveyed in the NFL's treatment of its cheerleaders who are grossly underpaid and mistreated. I was surprised that in the materials I have come across regarding this topic, only Taylor's column even commented on this fact because the Raiderettes's suit was still pending at the time of this incident. The New York Jets, the Buffalo Bills, and the Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders are also filing suits, so this is by no means a problem within one organization.

These suits also highlight how the NFL devalues women. In a recent ESPN article about the lawsuit, I learned that the cheerleaders are often not paid on a regular basis and only receive a paycheck at the end of the season. Not to mention, they make far far far less than minimum wage. The Raiderettes are paid $125 per game, which roughly equates to about $5 per hour. However, in July, their pay was increased to $9 per hour. In California, the minimum wage is $12 per hour, and there is a strong push to increase it to $15 per hour. This also does not include payment for the practices three times a week. Nor does it include the other appearances they are obliged to make throughout the season. The women are also expected to pay for any damages in their uniforms. From what I've read about the equipment managers who work directly with the players, they are not responsible for the tears or stains that they may incur while on the field. The teams pay the launderers to fix those items. Further, the women are expected to keep up a team-approved appearance from their own pocket, which includes manicures, pedicures, makeup, and more. The article cites that the cheerleaders are expected to pay for their own cut and color at team-approved salons. For those men who may be reading this, an average cut and color costs anywhere between $100-$200 or even more depending on the salon. I met a man who had been a lawyer then saved enough money to pursue his dream of being a broadcast journalist. Even at the studio, the broadcasters were given the option of having their hair cut at a studio-approved salon for free or at a reduced rate (from what I understood about half of what the salon usually charged). Despite the fact that the NFL is a multi-billion dollar enterprise, cheerleaders are the lowly dregs. What surprised me most in that article though was that the women were subjected to weigh-ins. They are docked pay if they do not keep within a certain acceptable weight limit. I thought that was banished in the days of Gloria Steinem when she went undercover in the Playboy Club. To subject the so-called Football's Fabulous Females to this, just made me sick to my stomach. It's barbaric.

However, what truly hits home to the NFL's disregard for women is the culture of abuse that keeps the cheerleaders in check. According to the ESPN article, the cheerleaders are threatened that they are disposable. If they decide to gain too much wait, miss practice, or do not follow any of the strict rules in place, they are told that it would not be difficult to find a replacement. This culture of intimidation is what is used to ensure that the women stay within the "sisterhood" of cheerleaders. They are lead to believe that they have been chosen to be part of a special sorority but that privilege can be revoked at any time. While the NFL players are given incentives to perform well through bonuses and perks on top of generous salaries, the cheerleaders are bullied into accepting whatever morsels they are given because they are replaceable. And this is where I find any words that Goodell or the NFL offer to be hollow because this culture of misogyny lies within their own organization.

Marriage and the Second Video
While I have no knowledge of the relationship between Janay Palmer and Ray Rice, I don't think that marrying him necessarily proves his innocence. There are those who point to the fact that she married Rice despite the incident as evidence that he must not be abusive because she never would have agreed to wed him in the first place. Well, I don't believe that. First, in some cases of domestic violence, the abuser may express some remorse. He may apologize and promise not to do it again and begin to treat the victim in a better manner. This is often why the victim forgives the abuser and agrees to remain with him. I do not know if that is the case with Palmer and Rice, but it is a known cycle to happen. Second, the marriage was pushed up to an earlier date. Why the rush? Well, I am not a lawyer, but I do know that husbands and wives cannot testify against each other, except under certain circumstances. I am not saying that this is what happened between Palmer and Rice, but it does make me question why the sudden urgency to marry. Weddings usually involve a lot of planning and revolve around a particular date. If there had been a set date, why move it up a few months ahead with little notice, and why at such a particular time shortly after the scandal broke?

With the release of the second video that clearly shows Rice punching Palmer twice, the second hit leaving her unconscious, it was evident that there no longer was any doubt about what happened inside that elevator. The NFL claims to have never seen the video and immediately suspended Rice from indefinitely while the Baltimore Ravens moved forward in terminating their contract with the running back. There are several things that happened at this point that I want to make a comment.

It is important to note that TMZ paid to obtain the video from inside the elevator, not the NFL. This is important because I believe that the NFL either wanted to be able to claim plausible deniability or just did not care enough to find out what really happened. Either way, it continues the idea that women and domestic abuse is not an agenda that the NFL deems notable to pursue. First of all, there had to be a video from inside the elevator. Anyone who has ever been to a casino or seen Ocean's Eleven (the George Clooney one, not the Sinatra one) or CSI: Las Vegas knows that casinos have cameras everywhere, except inside the hotel rooms. Goodell and everyone involved knew there had to be a video. There has been some back and forth as to whether or not the NFL had actually seen the videotape in question, but I don't think that is the point. The fact of the matter is that whether or not it had been seen or not, the NFL is a large enough conglomerate to have had the means to obtain the video and keep it if it had wanted to. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue had the power to cancel the very popular television show Playmakers because he deemed it to be detrimental to the image of the NFL. In my opinion, if a commissioner of the NFL can do that, he can certainly obtain a security videotape from a New Jersey casino, just as TMZ did. I am also inclined to believe that even if the NFL had obtained the videotape from inside the elevator, they may not have actually watched it, so they could claim plausible deniability later. By this I mean, the NFL did not deny that a videotape ever existed, but when they claim that it had never been viewed, they can then go forward in "honestly" saying that they were unaware of the exact nature of what happened in the elevator. In this way, it makes it possible that evidence may have been sent over in a box, which then may have went purposely unopened and unexamined, so they could claim that none of this had ever surfaced in their investigation.

The last thing I want to say is that it should not have taken the second video to surface in order for any action to be taken. If the NFL really wanted to take a stance on domestic abuse, they did too little too late. Of course, the prosecutors also made a slight fumble in letting Ray Rice off so easily, but the NFL is a enormous conglomerate with far-reaching power. It is impossible to ignore it, and they know it. This is why when they could have made a statement they didn't. I don't think they had to suspend him indefinitely right off the bat, but a two-game suspension was a joke. And I say that he should not have necessarily been banned because everyone deserves a second chance. If Rice would go through counseling (and not with Ray Lewis, as he had offered), go through proper legal channels, and truly learn from his mistakes, I think it would be acceptable for him to return, granted there is no history of abuse that is uncovered. But when I look at the enormous fail combined with the culture of intimidation that they subject on their cheerleaders, I begin to realize that the NFL obviously cares little for women. If there is ever a call for feminism, this is it. We should not be living in a world where this type of behavior is acceptable. If those women against feminism really believe that inequality is a myth or that domestic violence doesn't target women, they are so obviously wrong.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Why I Love Hockey

First, thank you to everyone who has followed me from the beginning. I apologize that I went AWOL for a while, but I am back. I first started this blog at the suggestion of my best friend in the world because she thought it would be a good idea to share my opinions on the internet. I'm pretty sure she just wanted me to stop boring her to death, so you have her to thank for unleashing me onto you. But I really have to thank her for encouraging me to do this because I have found such wonderful people through the blog and on Twitter. I'd like to thank John Harris, Will Moriarty, and the OT Mafia for being like one big extended family. Although I haven't been in touch for a while, none of you have been far from my thoughts. You guys are and have been the best, and I hope that you will forgive me for my absence. Also a special thank you to Chris Townsend who has been so encouraging in the few times that we have met, and I hope that I can give this blog enough momentum to hopefully be a guest on his show. What can I say, a girl can dream, can't she? That being said, let me get started.

A former schoolmate of mine posed this question to me: "Why should I care about hockey?" I responded that it wasn't any business of mine what he should or should not care about, but it got me thinking about why I love hockey. I enjoy sports, and I constantly listen to sports radio. However, of all the sports, it is hockey that has won my heart. For me it all started when I dated a guy in college (of course all roads lead back to a guy) who is an avid LA Kings fan. While we were dating, we went to many Kings games. I found Staples Center to be mesmerizing, and I was instantly sucked into the excitement. My first Kings game was probably in 2003 or so, and it was not a great time in the organization's history. However, I completely fell in love. The game is fast-paced, and it is isn't overly technical. When you compare it to football, it's amazing how little time is actually allocated to making plays, and there are so many stoppages for various reasons. I am in no way saying that football is boring, but it takes a great deal of time and energy to understand the line of scrimmage, all the fouls, etc. Hockey, you basically watch them drive at the opponents' nets, and you don't have to understand all the technicalities at your first game. So I was riveted as I watched Mike Cammalleri, Ziggy Palffy, and Alex Frolov skate across the ice. I was even fortunate enough to watch a win that first time! Palffy easily became my favorite player. While I enjoy football, hockey is just on another level for me. There is a sort of elegance to it that I cannot quite find the words to explain.

But I'm not going to lie. I love the fights! It's not as though I watch just for the fights because that is ridiculous. There is no way to predict a fight, especially in this era, but I enjoy watching two guys duke it out on the ice. I remember when George Parros was coming up with the Kings. I remember my then boyfriend telling me that he was learning to fight from the great Marty McSorley, who was an analyst for the Kings at the time. It was then that I learned about enforcers and the pests. Sean Avery is probably one of my favorites because he was a King. I know that a lot of people think he is a jerk, and he might be. I don't know. I've never met him. However, I find him hilarious. He runs his mouth like an idiot at times. In a pre-season game against the Phoenix Coyotes, Denis Gauthier hit Jeremy Roenick which led to a concussion. I believe Avery went out to retaliate, but Gauthier refused to throw down. In a post-game interview, Avery basically said that it was typical of a French-Canadian to hide behind his visor and pretend to play tough. Teammate Luc Robitaille, a Hall of Famer and most winningest left-winger, was asked to comment since he is from Montreal. Luc replied with something to the effect that this wasn't the first time Avery had said something stupid, and it wasn't going to be the last. While I'm sure there are people who find this offensive, I just had to laugh because it is exactly something that Avery would say in the first place. And the Sean Avery Rule is probably the most inventive way to be such a jerk that the league actually made a rule to prevent it from happening again. For those of you who don't know, before 2008, there was no actual parameters given when screening the goalie. Okay, I'll back up here. Obviously, the main idea of hockey is to get the puck past the goaltender and into the net. In order to make it harder for the goalie to see, the opposing team may place a player in front of him to prevent his line of vision and maybe have another player sneak the puck past and into the net. This is called screening the goalie. Despite the NHL having been formed in 1917, no one had actually decided to stand before a goaltender and wave his arms around like a maniac until Sean Avery of the New York Rangers did just that in front of future Hall-of-Famer and already legendary Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils. It was such an outrageous, yet devilishly ingenious, move that the NHL amended the rule to disallow such action. Here is a video, so you can witness Avery in all his glory:

However, not all enforcers are like Avery. In fact it wasn't until much later that I learned that enforcers, or goons (like that movie with Stiffler), aren't really goons at all. For example, George Parros has a degree in economics from Princeton University. He may be a tough guy on the ice, but he is very sharp! Another Princeton alum is another former Kings player Kevin Westgarth who received a degree in psychology. He also met his wife, Meagan Cowher, daughter of famed NFL coach Bill Cowher, at the university. Westgarth also played an instrumental role for the NHLPA during the most recent lockout. Despite the fact that he is mostly known for his size and inclination to throw down on the ice, he also understands the complicated mess of a collective bargaining agreement. John Scott who most recently joined the San Jose Sharks is another example. Scott holds an electrical engineering degree from Michigan Tech. Although not exactly an enforcer but does use his size to his advantage, Douglas Murray, formerly of the San Jose Sharks and now with the Montréal Canadiens, has a degree in hotel management from Cornell. When the Sharks played an exhibition game in Germany in 2010, Murray was instrumental in setting up travel itinerary and finding hotels. Despite the fact that many people think these goons are just big morons on the ice, it isn't actually true.

Which leads me to another reason why I love hockey: the players and coaches. The majority of players seem like good people. I'm not saying that they are all angels, but there are many who have good hearts. They know they are fortunate to be making the kind of money they do and also to be living out their childhood dream. For example, when most people think of former Vancouver Canucks head coach John Tortorella, the words "rude," "obnoxious," and "hot-tempered" most likely come to mind. What people don't know that when he isn't in coach-mode (yeah, that's a thing), is that he is a very nice person. I had the opportunity to meet him a couple years ago when he was coach of the New York Rangers, and they came to play the San Jose Sharks. He was at the Tank about 9:30 am or so, which was approximately a couple hours before his team would practice before the game. He was in shorts and an Under Armour type shirt because he was going for a run around the parking lot at the arena. There were a few fans hanging around, and he was very polite. He would autograph anything presented to him, but he asked not to take pictures. Although he didn't give a reason, one could assume, he didn't want a picture of him all sweaty in his jogging outfit to start filling the internet. He was happy to talk to anyone who approached, and he definitely was not the guy you would see in interviews. I also read an article in ESPN (see article here: about his special connection with a young boy with cerebral palsy. The New York Rangers participate in a charity organization called Garden of Dreams which helps to fulfill the wishes of children who are in need or sick. One lucky Rangers fan was able to attend a practice and game with his family. This child had struck a chord with Tortorella that they continued to keep in touch even after he was fired from the Rangers, and he even paid for an exercise machine that the child needed. Despite his salty disposition in the media, he has a very kind heart.

Another example is Scott Hartnell. He's a bit of a pest on the ice. He can deliver hard hits, but he also scores. He has a very fun-loving personality, and it makes it easy to want to root for a guy like that. While he was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers, a fan noticed that he falls on his own accord a lot. As a joke, the fan started a fall-count on Twitter. Hartnell took notice, and he turned the counter into a charity. He would donate a certain amount for every fall he made that would be spread among three charities that were important to him. He encouraged fans to also donate.

Similarly, Dustin Brown of the LA Kings is known as a hard hitter. Although it is debatable how accurate hit counts are, Brown is often in the top five in the league when it comes to hits. Because of this, he decided to donate $50 for every hit he made for a season. He also challenged fans to donate a per hit amount. This campaign won him an NHL award to honor his charity work. When I hear stories like these, it makes me proud to be a hockey fan. I feel like I'm supporting the good guys. I am in no way saying that there aren't players in other sports who are like this, but I enjoy learning more about the hockey players I love to watch on the ice.

But what I love about hockey most of all is how it makes me feel. Every time I watch a game, I can almost feel the chill of the ice and the excitement in the arena when I attended my first game. Even when I receive the latest issue of The Hockey News or The Fourth Period, I feel more alive. Hockey gives me something to look forward to, and I have something of an obsession for it. I am constantly on the hunt for things I can learn about the sport, its players, its coaches, and its history. With every game, I love rooting for the teams and players. Even as I watched my Los Angeles Kings win the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years, I could not help but feel a bit of my heart crush as I looked at the faces of Dominic Moore, Henrik Lundqvist, and Martin St. Louis of the New York Rangers. As happy as I was for my team and my favorite players, a part of me ached for those who had just been defeated because I feel like I know them. Dominic Moore had a great comeback season after losing his wife just the year before to cancer. Henrik Lundqvist has been such an elite goaltender but has yet to win a Stanley Cup for such a storied franchise, and his career is edging closer to an end. Martin St. Louis is a player who went undrafted but through determination and hard work, he has become one of the greatest scorers and is still seeking another chance at glory. At the same time, I was thrilled to see how elated Marian Gaborik and Robyn Regehr were to finally win that elusive Cup. I could almost feel how ecstatic they must have felt to be able to put their lips to the Cup at long last. Several organizations gave up on Gaborik being the star they needed to win it all, but he proved them wrong. Regehr was so close when he was with the Flames in 2004 but lost and hadn't been as close to winning since. These emotions are what make me love hockey.

What sports do you love? Why do you love them? You can share them in the comments section or tweet them to me @SportingAJenda.