Later today, I'm going try to put up a post about the Yankees' loss last night, and a tribute to Roger Maris on what would have been his 80th Birthday. Hopefully, either today or tomorrow, I'll be able to get my travel guide for the Jets' trip to Green Bay this weekend.
But I need to discuss the Ray Rice incident.
Raymell Mourice Rice was born January 22, 1987 in New Rochelle, in Westchester County, New York. He grew up there. He was the biggest star of Rutgers University's rise from football jokehood to a school that could be taken seriously. He was one of the best running backs in the country in the 2005, '06 and '07 seasons.
And, at the time, he seemed like a good person. As far as I know, he was not a disciplinary problem at RU, nor was there ever a report of him being arrested. No fights, no public drunkenness, no traffic accidents, no parking tickets (which is a shock, because the University Police, and the cops in New Brunswick and neighboring Highland Park love to give out parking tickets), we never even heard of him so much as missing a class. (Surely, he missed some, every student misses at least a few, but we never heard about it.)
And never, not once, did we hear about him mistreating a woman. Or a child. Or an animal, unlike Michael Vick, whom I saw lead Virginia Tech into Rutgers Stadium and torch the Scarlet Knights 59-19.
(That was in 1997, RU's winless 0-11 season. I have previously stated on this blog that the score was 70-14. That score did happen to Rutgers, but it was a year later, against Syracuse, on the road, and I did not attend. When you get hit with as many blowout losses as Rutgers football has, they tend to blend together, barring a single shocking play, like their disaster against Louisville that cost them the outright 2012 Big East title.)
Now, Rice has put himself in a massive scandal.
Rice is the most heralded Rutgers football player since Paul Robeson, an All-American end (in modern terms, tight end and defensive end) in the late 1910s, who went on to become a lawyer, singer, actor and activist. He took a lot of strong stands for people who could not stand up for themselves. But he was also a Communist, who openly spoke of his admiration for Josef Stalin.
Rutgers University: My favorite college football team's 2 most-heralded players ever are a Communist and a wife-beater.
At least we're not Penn State. They'll be Jerry Sandusky U. for years to come.
When he entered the professional ranks, he helped the Baltimore Ravens rise from mediocrity to a Super Bowl win. Through the end of last season, there was never a mention of him being a problem, on the field or off.
In 2009, I saw Rutgers play the University of Maryland, at Byrd Stadium in College Park, just outside the Capital Beltway, and not far from Baltimore. Maryland Terrapins football would not be the institution that it is without players, and fans, from the Baltimore area. And that day -- a very rainy Rutgers trailed at the half but come from behind to win 34-13 -- I saw a lot of Ray Rice Number 27 jerseys in the stands, some of them Rutgers red, some of them Ravens purple.
At the time, Ray Rice was considered a hero. And this was before he had a Super Bowl ring.
Then came the night of February 15, 2014. Ray and his girlfriend, Janay Palmer, were at the Revel Casino & Hotel, at the northern end of the Atlantic City Boardwalk. (It is the 2nd-tallest building in New Jersey, behind the Goldman Sachs Tower on the Jersey City waterfront, and easily the tallest building in South Jersey. The Revel was also the newest casino in AC, and closed after just 2 years earlier this month. What will happen to the building now is not clear.)
They got into an elevator, and he punched her in the face, knocking her unconscious. When the elevator doors opened, he dragged her out.
This was caught on a security camera. It was publicly revealed.
It was caught on camera, and the world found out about it.
At first, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended him for 2 games.
Now, before we get into what happened after that, let me go off on this rant.
One of the things the NFL lost me for doing was stupid disciplinary issuances. Like when Johnny Unitas died in 2002. The Baltimore Colt legend was once considered the greatest quarterback who ever lived. By the time he did, The Sporting News had released its list, picked by "experts," of the 100 Greatest Football Players. Unitas was ranked Number 5 -- among all players, trailing only Jim Brown, Jerry Rice, Joe Montana and Lawrence Taylor. In 2004, TSN backed this up by releasing a poll of the 50 Greatest Quarterbacks. Again, Unitas ranked 2nd behind Montana. Even today, with Brett Favre, Tom Brady and the Manning brothers having achieved much, the title "Greatest Quarterback Who Ever Lived" is pretty much a discussion about Unitas and Montana.
Upon his death, the current Colts quarterback, Peyton Manning, ignored the fact that the Colts were no longer in Baltimore, and wanted to pay tribute to Johnny U by wearing his trademark, black high-top cleats, during a game. The NFL said no, that he would be fined $25,000 if he did that. Manning accepted this order, and wore his usual cleats.
There are a few men without whom the NFL would never have become the gigantic league it is today. Among them are George Halas, Paul Brown, Vince Lombardi, Lamar Hunt, Tom Landry and Bill Walsh. Among players, it's pretty much limited to three: Red Grange, who saved it in the mid-1920s; Joe Namath, who made it hip in the late 1960s; and Johnny Unitas, who made it a big deal in the media in the late 1950s.
And Paul Tagliabue, then the NFL Commissioner, wouldn't allow a one-time tribute to one of those three men.
In 2004, former Arizona Cardinal safety Pat Tillman was killed while serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. (The circumstances of how that was handled are also atrocious, but have nothing to do with the NFL.) The NFL ordered that all teams wear a memorial decal for Tillman on their helmets in the games played on September 24 of that year.
Jake Plummer, who had been Tillman's teammate on the Cardinals and before that at Arizona State University, wanted to keep the decal on his helmet for the rest of the season. But, but that point, Jake the Snake was a member of the Denver Broncos, and thus, once his teammates' Tillman decals came off, his uniform would not match the rest of his team's. For that reason the NFL told him he couldn't do it.
Plummer was so enraged by this that, for the next season, he grew his hair long, as Tillman had before enlisting. He became disillusioned with the NFL, and retired before the 2007 season.
It should be noted that, while Plummer has taken several moral stands for which he should be applauded, he may have done so out of guilt. He was charged with sexual misconduct while an Arizona State student, and struck a plea deal that kept him out of jail but got him probation, community service, and a fine.
The NFL has fined lots of players for violating the uniform code. For things like taking your helmet off while you're still on the field. (Such fines were not always levied.) For things like not having your chinstrap snapped. For things like not wearing your socks the right way!
And several NFL players have been suspended for four games for being caught with marijuana. Marijuana makes some people do stupid things, but it's never been known to make anyone violent.
And Ray Rice, initially, got two games for punching a woman in the face and dragging her out of an elevator. Two games.
On March 27 of this year, the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office indicted Rice for third-degree aggravated assault. If convicted, he could be fined $15,000 -- not a small amount of money for a modern pro athlete, more an insult than a hardship -- and could be sentence to 3 to 5 years in prison. The case has yet to go to trial.
The day after the indictment -- oddly, on the 30th Anniversary of the day the Colts were moved out of Baltimore -- Ray and Janay were married.
He has called his actions "inexcusable" and said this is "something I have to live with the rest of my life... I know that's not who I am as a man. That's not who my mom raised me to be. If anybody knows me, they know I was raised by a single parent, and that was my mother. I let her down, I let my wife down, I let my daughter down. I let my wife's parents down. I let the whole Baltimore community down. I let my teammates down. I let so many people down, because of 30 seconds of my life that I know I can't take back."
As I said, there were no similar incidents before this happened. There have been no reports of any such incident since. That doesn't make what he did any less horrible. It does suggest that he may be right: That this isn't the kind of thing he would regularly do.
She has appeared by his side during this controversy, and appears to have forgiven him. She posted this on her Instagram account yesterday:
I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I'm mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it's reality is a nightmare itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted [opinions] from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret everyday is a horrible thing.
To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific. THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don't you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you've succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!
Whether she has truly forgiven him, and whether she should have, is up to her. No one can decide that for her.
But now, the video has been seen by Goodell and Ravens officials. They already knew that it had happened. Actually seeing the video doesn't change the facts: If he was wrong to have done it, it doesn't make it more wrong now that you've actually seen it.
The Ravens organization has cut Rice. They did the right thing by doing this. Regardless of what his wife, or anyone else who cares about him, thinks, neither he nor any other person has the unalienable right to play professional football.
However, now that Goodell has seen the video, of an incident he already knew had happened, he has suspended Rice indefinitely -- admitting that he "didn't get it right" the first time. No one doubts that.
But he's been suspended indefinitely for something for which Goodell had already suspended him for 2 games. Yes, the initial punishment was not enough. Yes, the indefinite suspension should have happened first.
But suspending him twice for the same crime? That's not right. In legal terms, that's "double jeopardy." If a man commits a crime, and he's convicted based on forensic evidence, and he's sent to prison, you can't add prison time just because video of the crime has surfaced.
"The ballistics prove that the bullets came from Bob's gun? And there's forensic evidence that proves that he was at the scene of the murder at the time that it happened? And he has no alibi? Guilty, put him in prison for 25 years to life. Oh, now that he's already in prison, we have found video footage of him committing the murder? That's it: New sentence, strap him to the gurney and give him the death penalty!"
No, it doesn't work that way. And it shouldn't work that way here, either.
But then, if Rice hired a lawyer to sue the NFL for unfair suspension based on that argument, it would cause a backlash that would make his current public-relations nightmare seem like small potatoes. Right now, all anyone wants him to do is shut up and be good to people, especially his wife.
Kobe Bryant is still allowed to play basketball. We've never actually seen what he did to get indicted (though he plead out and avoided jail time).
Ray Rice wasn't released by the Ravens because he committed a crime. We already knew that he committed a crime. He was released because he embarrassed his team.
He wasn't suspended indefinitely by the NFL because he committed a crime. He wasn't even suspended indefinitely because the video, which we have now seen, made him look worse. He was suspended indefinitely because the video, which we have now seen, made the NFL look stupid for not getting it right the first time.
You can do whatever you want in the National Football League, as long as you aren't seen embarrassing your team or causing the League to look bad.
If you doubt this, wait until January 2016, when Terrell Owens becomes eligible for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and see if he is elected in that first year of eligibility. And his only "crime" was throwing his quarterbacks (that's plural) overboard. ("Throw him overboard," kids, is what we used to say, before you came up with "Throw him under the bus." I can't stand that expression.) In so doing, he embarrassed multiple organizations.
Or, to put it another way: If there was footage of Ray Lewis doing what he did to get into the legal system, he wouldn't have that new statue outside the Ravens' stadium. And it will be interesting to see if he is elected when he becomes eligible in January 2018.
As is so often the case, and in cases with profiles far lower than this one, some men are actually coming out to blame the victim. Saying things like, If you don't want the man to beat you, don't provoke him; or that she must have done something to deserve it.
Nothing she could have done deserved this. Period.
Anyone who doesn't get that is more of a monster than Ray Rice was in those 30 seconds.
Rice is the most notorious domestic-violence case in NFL history thus far. The previously most notorious is as follows:
Ben Roethlisberger has quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers into 3 Super Bowls, winning 2. In terms of statistics and achievements, he's a good candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
In 2009, he was investigated for an incident that happened the year before, at Harrah's Casino resort in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. A woman alleged that he had raped her. The police couldn't find enough evidence to back this up. So she filed a lawsuit. A co-worker demolished her claim, saying that she pursued him, and the case was dismissed.
And had that been the last such story involving Big Ben, it could have been swept under the rug.
It wasn't. In 2010, he was accused of raping a Georgia State University student in the bathroom of a nightclub in Milledgeville, Georgia. Yet again, the evidence was flimsy, and no charges were filed. There was no civil suit, either.
Since the first incident, the NFL had established a "personal conduct policy." Under this policy, Goodell suspended Roethlisberger for the first 6 games of the 2010 season. He later reduced it to 4 games.
That time, did he "get it right the first time"?
It's hard to say. We don't know all the facts of the case. Big Ben could have been guilty as sin, or the victim of an attempted railroad. After all, he is rich and famous, and thus an easy target. But it's not unscrupulous businessmen -- or "businessmen" -- who have "targeted" him, it's women. Not just one, but two. One time, it could be written off as one woman being nuts, or (to give her the benefit of the doubt) unsure of what had happened, or perceiving what happened incorrectly.
But it's two times. That's not a coincidence: That's a pattern. Even if Big Ben didn't actually commit a crime either time, he put himself in a second such situation, after he knew what could have happened the first time.
Since then, 4 years, there has been no new incident with him. He has since gotten married and had a child. He seems to have settled down and lived a stable, nonviolent life.
But what if video emerges of either incident? Is the fact that there isn't such a video in the public record what's protecting him now?
Or is it a second Super Bowl ring? (Rice has one.)
Or is it the fact that Big Ben plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers, a "family team," while Rice plays for the Baltimore Ravens, who already had a "thug" reputation thanks to the Ray Lewis incident years ago?
Or... is it that Big Ben is white, and Rice isn't?
We may never know for sure.
Finally, one thing I am sure of it that many people think that some good will come from this story, that the NFL, and perhaps America as a whole, will finally get serious about domestic abuse, about mistreatment of wives and girlfriends.
Maybe that will happen.
But there is nothing good about the Ray Rice story. It is sordid through and through.
And I say that as someone who liked admired Rice, and cheered him on, at Rutgers Stadium and in front of my TV set.
Now... when he plays again (and if Michael Vick has, surely Rice will, eventually), who can cheer him?
His wife? If she does, can the rest of us get off our high horses and give him the benefit of the doubt? Should we?
I don't know. Surely, there are NFL players, past and present, who have done worse things. Some have gone to prison for murder. Then there's O.J. Simpson, who is in prison, but not for the murders most people now believe he committed.
It had become harder and harder for me to watch the NFL these last few years.
This is America's favorite sport. And it is in multiple crises: Domestic abuse, concussions, other crippling injuries, steroids, teams holding cities hostage -- "Build us a new stadium, or we're moving to another city."
Just yesterday, a new scandal: A woman is suing Jerry Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, one of the League's marquee teams, for sexual assault, an incident she says took place in 2009.
Now it's one of the NFL's team owners. One of its most powerful owners. The finger is now pointed at one of them. How will the owners react? Will they turn on him, as the NBA's owners did with the racists who owned the Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks? Or will they circle the wagons and stand by Jerry?
This is America's favorite sport.
What does that say about us?
Comedian George Carlin used his "Baseball and Football" bit to examine what those 2 sports say about America at large. Some of the lines from that bit are worth mentioning here:
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying!
In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness. In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that, at least 27 times, you are perfectly capable of taking the life of a fellow human being. Preferably, a stranger!
And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line!
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! I hope I'll be safe at home! Safe at home! I'm going home!