The Ray Rice Fallout
When Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was caught on camera in February dragging his then fiancee’s unconscious body out of a casino elevator, you knew he was in trouble. You knew he’d face repercussions in court. You knew NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL would get involved. But the fallout was worse than that.
Rice was accused of punching out his fiancee in the casino bar, dragging her unconscious body through the attached hotel and onto the elevator where the video picks up. In court, instead of receiving the possible three to five years in prison for the felony, he received what amounts to a slap on the wrist – he’ll participate in a pre-trial intervention program. This verdict, though totally inadequate according to many, isn’t unexpected for an NFL player and first time offender.
Surely, though, the NFL’s ruling would be much more severe. After all, players that violate the NFL’s substance abuse policy regularly receive four game suspensions, and that’s just for first time offenders. Ben Roethlisberger initially received a six game suspension (dropped to four) in 2011 for allegedly sexually assaulting a girl in Georgia, even though prosecutor’s dropped the case, and even though there was no video documenting the alleged assault. Thanks to the elevator video, Rice’s altercation with his then-fiancee was receiving national media attention. Many media members called for a year long suspension, and at the very least expected a Roethlisberger-type six game suspension.
Instead, Goodell suspended Rice for two games.
In the midst of the anger and outrage after the meager suspension, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith’s comments on First Take the morning of July 25 stood out. In a rambling monologue, Smith warned women not to “do anything to provoke wrong actions.” Amazingly, the backlash for those comments wasn’t immediate. But when fellow ESPN colleague Michelle Beadle called out Smith for his insensitive comments later that day, people took notice. Among other things, Beadle reminded Smith via Twitter that “Violence isn’t the victim’s issue. It’s the abuser’s. To insinuate otherwise is irresponsible and disgusting.” Several days later, on July 29, ESPN announced that Smith “will not appear on First Take or ESPN Radio for the next week.”
The internet’s reaction was swift and brutal. But not towards Smith. Towards Beadle. “Stop taking out your sexual frustration on Stephen A,” one person tweeted. Another informed Beadle “what goes around comes around. Ur just a pathetic excuse for a human being honestly. To do in a colleague like that!” And most alarmingly, malicious tweets like, “Stephen A should have a free pass to smack beadle one time.”
Somehow, Smith was the victim, and Beadle the aggressor. Outwardly, Beadle shrugged off the criticism, joking that it was a good time to step away for a cocktail and a good book. But one tweet betrayed how she really felt: “I would recommend you watch this timeline for a bit…for a glimpse into America.”
It would be one thing if Twitter were the only place Beadle received that kind of vitriol. When someone as popular as Smith receives any sort of reprimand or rebuke, loyal fans come out of the woodwork, regardless of how illogical or idiotic their arguments are. Unfortunately, it’s to be expected. But through another outlet, Beadle and those standing against domestic violence received a much more hurtful indictment of their position. That outlet? The Baltimore Ravens website.
On July 29, the same day ESPN suspended Smith for a week, the Ravens posted this picture on their website with the caption: “Ravens Fans Give Rice Standing Ovation.” And it doesn’t stop there. As Bleacher Report’s Ty Shalter notes, “With every blog post, every camp update, and every tweet, they seem to downplay the crime of which [Rice is] accused.” After the NFL announced Rice’s two-game suspension, NFL Network reported that Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said it was “not a big deal,” and that Rice is a “heck of a guy.”
In the world of coach speak, Harbaugh truly stands behind his player, supporting the cliche that NFL teams are families. His message: in Baltimore, we support and protect our own. But it has to make you wonder, too – what would happen tomorrow if the 27-year-old running back tore his ACL? With already declining numbers in each of the last two years, I’d guess Rice would suddenly lose that support and protection.
After all, we’re no longer talking about domestic violence; we’re talking about economics, money – would a 28-year-old running back in decline with a repaired ACL be worth his contract? In that scenario, it’s not too hard to envision his “family” giving him the cold shoulder.
Another thing worth keeping in mind as this back and forth about Rice continues: another NFL player, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, is facing a year long suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, for smoking marijuana. Sadly, the NFL’s message to Gordon with the ruling could be: too bad you didn’t hit a woman.