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.

No comments:

Post a Comment