The Stupid Decisions of Ray Rice and Roger Goodell

I can’t decide whether to think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a misogynist, a company yes-man, or just the village idiot.  Surely no reasonably-thinking person believes the NFL Commissioner when he says he only this week became aware of the video from inside the elevator, showing Baltimore Ravens Ray Rice clock his then-fiancee with such force that she fell, hit her head on the elevator railing, and was knocked unconscious. Goodell and the NFL acknowledged back in February that they were aware of the surveillance video shot from the hallway camera, showing Rice dragging her conked-out body off the elevator and leaving her laying in the hallway. From that video and the police report of the incident, the NFL gave Rice a two-game suspension, barely a wrist-slap in football lingo.

Now, some six months later, when the video from inside the elevator details the real hell that happened between floors that night, Goodell and his gang express outrage, say it’s the first they know of it, and Baltimore sacks Rice. Thing is, that video is from the same set of surveillance cameras, operated by the same surveillance company, working for the same hotel, and presumably part of the same police report that was issued way back in February. That Goodell and his gang didn’t know about it back then is laughable. But which is worse – that they thought it wouldn’t get out, or that, as long as the public never saw it, what happened in that elevator didn’t really matter?

If Richard Nixon left us with nothing else – and by the way, we got Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, and that’s something – Nixon drilled into the national psyche that cover-ups don’t ever end well. If there’s video, it will get out. When there’s Internet, it will go viral. Maybe Goodell’s lawyers said something like “Hey man, you really don’t want to see this video. Keep yourself clean and all that.” Or maybe Goodell just believed it would stay safely tucked in a vault beyond TMZ’s nosey grasp. In either case, Goodell made a lethal mistake. The Ray Rice incident – with or without the public’s knowledge of the second video – offered Goodell the opportunity to get in front of the story and take a tough stance on domestic violence in the lives of NFL players. Goodell and the NFL had a chance to send a loud message that the league’s support of women reaches well beyond those sweet little pink ribbons on NFL jerseys. They had a chance to plant a flag, stand up against an issue we know – and they know – is rampant within the league and within the households who fund the league. Instead, Goodell and his gang chose to pray to the football gods that the video stayed secure. They chose to sit this one out.

Yes, the woman whose conked-out body was dragged off that elevator and dropped in the hallway married that same man a month later. Why, people ask? I’ve never been knocked out on a elevator, but I have been pushed up against a wall and wrestled to maintain control of my car on the freeway, both at the hands of the man I eventually married. Both situations were ugly and frightening. I cried a lot and swore I’d never let that happen again. But he apologized, well-meaning friends reminded me that love is messy, and society at large turned a blind eye to domestic violence. I came to believe all relationships have their ups and downs and this was ours. It took almost twenty years to summon the courage to get out.

My heart goes out to Janay Rice as she relives that awful evening via the media’s viral lens this week, as she stands before microphones asking people to leave her and her family to work out their issues in private. I hope she can find peace. And I hope that this time – on the heels of all the other times we’ve seen women physically assaulted by their powerful men – we can look domestic violence in the face and call it what it is. We can make clear our horror that domestic violence happens in our world, and we can stare down the men who perpetrate it.

Guys, watch that video, then think about how you’d feel if that was your sister, your daughter. Would it make any difference if her boyfriend was some football star? And ladies, don’t for a minute think that could never be you.

As for me, I hope my Baltimore friends will stop by Hersh’s Pizza in Baltimore’s Federal Hill neighborhood today and grab a slice. In a city known for its love of sports and a macho blue-collar persona, this local pizza joint is offering free pizza to anyone who wants to trade in their Rice memorabilia. “The jerseys will save us money on toilet paper this week,” they told their Facebook fans.  Hersh’s is also donating $2.70 (in reference to Rice’s #27) to House of Ruth. 

I grew up loving football. As a little girl, I harbored the dream that one day I could own an NFL team, or maybe even be NFL Commissioner some day. It’s too bad Mr. Goodell got the job instead.