The NFL Starts the 2014 Season With a Knockout Punch
Did you ever think you’d see it? The National Football League kicked off its latest season this past weekend, but no one is talking about the games. Perhaps it was the lack of surprise. The defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks looked more than ready to defend their title with an easy 36-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers. Their vanquished foe from SB48, the Denver Broncos, won a thriller over the Indianapolis Colts 31-24 in one of the weekend’s better games. As for upsets, the only true shocker came in the New England Patriots‘ 33-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins, a setback that makes one (this writer, at least) wonder if the long run of excellence of the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady teams may finally be coming to an end.
No, none of that is being discussed today. Credit for this goes largely to two men: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Ray Rice, a one-time running back for the Baltimore Ravens. Rice had a starting job for the Ravens until Monday. He was fired.
A little detail is necessary. Rice was one of the league’s better running backs, a solid, punishing runner who was the perfect offensive compliment to the Ravens’ hard-hitting defense. He was still on top of his game last year. Unfortunately for him, Rice took up a new hobby during the past off-season: girlfriend-punching. A few months ago, a security camera caught Rice dragging his then-fiancee (now wife) Janay out of an elevator in an Atlantic City casino. You see, she was lying face down. Her shoe came off in Rice’s hand and he seemed to be more concerned about what he should do with it than with the lady in question. He was the cause of her indisposition, having cold-cocked her in the elevator.
Even in a sport known for its violent nature, Rice’s abusive act stunned many. In dealing with the matter, Goodell topped it for shock value. As commissioner, he has made himself known as a petty dictator who always seems a step behind public opinion. This is the point for full disclosure: I love the sport of football, not only its hard-hitting action but its endless competing strategies between coaches. The many comparisons between the gridiron and the field of battle are apt; both demand daring tactical moves yet rely on sturdy defenses. That said, I detest the NFL. Not for nothing is it called the No Fun League. Having a much weaker players union than most other professional sports, the league hands down arbitrary, often antiquated punishments. For instance, as many states (including the home states of the last two Super Bowl teams) legalize marijuana use, the NFL still suspends a player caught with this controlled substance for four games.
This fact made Goodell’s original punishment of Rice in July all the more shocking. He suspended the back for two games. You read that right: punching your girl’s lights out is only half as serious as toking up in the wisdom of the NFL. The league only made that punishment after the PR outcry (especially from women’s groups) made it impossible to ignore. Even then, reports flew across the Internet that Rice’s punch had been caught on another security camera. The NFL never saw it. Subsequently Goodell declared he had made a mistake and changed the league policy on spousal abuse. A first offense draws the guilty player a six-game suspension. A second wins him a lifetime ban from the league. Imperfectly as it had come about, the NFL seemed to have found the way forward.
Until Monday. That day TMZ aired the security footage of Rice’s punch. Suddenly the Ravens decided to cut ties with their star back; as the team’s head coach John Harbaugh said, the newly discovered footage changed everything. The NFL stepped in, suspending Rice indefinitely and getting the Canadian Football League to agree not to bring Rice in this season. The league made it clear any deviation in its policy against spousal abuse would not be tolerated under any circumstances.
This perception could not stand up to a simple question: why didn’t the NFL find this video in July? After all, its immense resources surely outweighed those of a website. Here’s where Goodell fumbled again. He claimed in his public statements yesterday that the league never knew about the second footage. This seems hard to believe since everyone else knew (or at least suspected) of its existence. The thinking football fan is left with two, equally distasteful conclusions. The first is that the NFL conducted a rushed, incomplete investigation to reach a quick and predetermined conclusion in July designed to give the appearance that Rice was being punished when the true goal was to get him back on the field as rapidly as possible. The second one is simpler: Goodell lied; the league knew but never wanted to see the knockout video.
None of this will or should change one’s view of the NFL. I’ll still watch the same as any other fall weekend. My enjoyment of the league’s combination of strategy and violence remains a matchless form of entertainment. Still, the nagging question remains: will I still respect myself for it in the morning?
[Editor’s Note: About 2 hours ago, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell allegedly proclaimed to CBS This Morning that Rice may get another chance. Rice stated: “Clearly, he has paid a price for the actions he’s already taken.” Seriously, a two day suspension for spousal abuse is a high price to pay? Sounds like Rice lawyered up to sue the NFL. If that’s the case, then perhaps he’s got a smoking-gun to show that he acted in self-defense. One questions why this woman married someone AFTER he assaulted her and why she is still by his side even now. This smells more like damage control than feeling that Rice atoned for his sins. I’m sure there is the financial considerations of what kinds of revenue streams are being drawn in with Rice playing in the NFL versus suspending him indefinitely. At the end of the day, it’s all about the game for the pro football players and the fans who support them and the deep pockets of those fans and corporate sponsors (such as Nike who sponsors Rice) for the NFL.]
– Louis Burklow (aka, Hollywood Country Boy), Staff Writer, Phoenix Genesis
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