These are the facts as we know them:
- Early in the morning of February 15, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancé Janay Palmer got into a physical altercation in an Atlantic City elevator. Both parties were arrested following the event.
- A few days later, the popular celebrity news website TMZ published surveillance footage that showed Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer out of the elevator. Rice was accused of “striking [Janay] with his hand, rendering her unconscious.”
- In June, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell met with Rice and his wife to hear their versions of what happened. After hearing their accounts and evaluating the evidence the league had gathered, Goodell decided to suspend Rice for two games.
- Then, last week, TMZ published footage of what took place inside the elevator that fateful night. America watched in horror as Rice punched his fiancé in the face and rendered her unconscious. The media and general public erupted in outrage. Shortly thereafter Rice was suspended from the NFL indefinitely.
This series of events is not only disturbing on multiple levels but also shows a profound failure of leadership by the NFL at every point in the handling of this tragic incident. Allow me to elaborate:
- The NFL alleges that they never saw the footage inside the elevator until it was released by TMZ on Monday. This is ludicrous. They either did not want to see that footage or are lying. Goodell knew the footage existed and if he had wanted the video, he could have gotten it. Best case scenario—Goodell is an incompetent leader who failed to do his job and made a serious decision based on incomplete information. Worst case scenario—Goodell saw the video and tried to sweep it under the rug. (According to the Associated Press, a law enforcement official sent the video to NFL executives in April.) If this is the case, Goodell’s leadership has no integrity and can no longer be trusted by the public.
- The NFL has been slow to act, indecisive when they did act, and reactive instead of proactive throughout this ordeal. Five weeks after Rice was suspended for two games (which was followed by a great deal of public criticism), the NFL announced a policy on domestic violence that would require a six week suspension for a first offense, and lifetime ban for the second (reinstatement could be sought after one year). Then the infamous elevator video was released and Rice was suspended indefinitely. So this begs the question, what is the NFL’s policy against domestic violence? And why has the policy changed three times since July 25? It seems clear that, unlike drug use, there is no definitive policy against domestic violence; instead, domestic violence is treated as a PR issue and the NFL’s position towards offenders is based solely on the current level of outrage from the media and public. Their message seems to be: If you are going to commit domestic violence, do not get caught on video.
The Ray Rice elevator incident did not occur within a vacuum—it is a society-wide issue. The NFL has proved just as incapable as dealing with this complex issue as society has as a whole. For decades, the NFL’s position has been to sweep difficult issues under the rug and preserve the status quo. This is not leadership and society deserves better. Now all that remains to be seen: will the NFL step up and tackle their issues head on? Will they lead the way in effecting positive change?
by Sarah Clark