We all saw the video. It was clear as day.
We shook our heads as we felt our emotions swirl. There was no hiding it. He did what no man should ever do, no matter the situation.
Yet we took solace in knowing that justice would prevail, the hammer would be heavy and Ray Rice would pay, and pay dearly, for that blatant, vicious assault on his then fiancé, Janay Palmer, in the elevator of an Atlantic City, NJ casino this past February. But as is the case with many instances of illegal activities in sports, we forgot about it after the initial outrage and went back to being sports fans, consuming what was needed to satisfy our sports addiction. Then Solange had her violent outburst in an elevator against Jay-Z, and while some found it “entertaining”, many had flashbacks to Ray Rice, including our own Ricardo Hazell, who penned this. So we expressed our outrage again, and then went upon our way.
We woke up one Saturday morning this past spring to Donald Sterling’s abhorrent comments, and with them the anger, shock and outrage that erupted across the country. America, especially Black America, watched to see what the NBA and new commissioner Adam Silver, would do. To be honest, I felt a twinge of doubt, as I’m sure was shared by other people of color, that this would be another slap on the wrist for a “rich white man.” I waited for the obligatory PR statement about how embarrassed he was over his views and words, how insensitive his comments were and how he is not a racist because he “has black friends.”
We had heard it so many times before, but we had faith in the NBA. They couldn’t sweep this under the rug; Silver had to come strong. On Tuesday April 29th, he did just that, banning Sterling for life and forcing a sale of The Clippers. Everyone rejoiced. It was a defining moment for sports and culture, and proof that at least one league had the backs of the group that makes up the majority of their primary employees and fan base.
Soon after we watched the Spurs’ dismantling of the Heat, awaited LeBron’s decision got swept up in the global excitement of the Beautiful Game. Now with the NFL pre-season upon us, we were ready for some football! However there were still house-keeping issues to resolve, one of which lingered in Baltimore.
To be honest, I hadn’t even remembered it until the Nerf constructed hammer wielded by Commissioner Roger Goodell came down, bringing with it the shockingly soft and disappointing punishment last week.
A two game suspension.
Wait. What? Stop playing.
That couldn’t be right. Robert Mathis gets a four game suspension for taking a banned substance. Josh Gordon appears to be headed for a year-long suspension for allegedly failing a drug test. But Ray Rice, who was caught on tape knocking his fiancé out and uncaringly dragging her out of an elevator gets only two games?!?!
I shook my head. Once again, the hypocrisy of sport rears its ugly head, and this time it emerged through the decision of a man characterized as a tireless protector of The Shield. Needless to say, the criticism of this punishment has been non-stop, from fans to organizations and even politicians- Senator Richard Blumenthol from Connecticut tweeted “Shame on @nflcommish @nfl for setting a terrible precedent.”
How could this happen? Goodell has been a vigilant enforcer of proper conduct since he assumed the role as Commissioner of the most powerful sports league in the country. The League’s breast cancer awareness program is a major initiative every year. In 2013, Scarborough research reported that 45% of the NFL’s fan base was female, and Nielsen reported that 33% of the League’s viewership was female. So how could he fumble this decision (pun very much intended) and why did it even take him so long to ultimately render an extremely soft punishment?
This speaks volumes on a multitude of issues, first and foremost being domestic violence. It consciously states that substance abuse is frowned upon more than domestic abuse. It screams that the League will gladly take the money generated by their female fans but it won’t stand up when it’s time to man up. How do you look into the eyes of your Grandmother, Wife or Daughter and tell them that being knocked unconscious is only worth 48 hours of punishment? How do you tell them that a dog’s life is worth more than their own? How do you admit that their rights are not on par with that of a failed drug test?
As a boy, especially one of color, you are taught to respect your mother and not let anyone disrespect her. You are taught that as a man, a REAL man, you never lay your hands on a woman, and you defend them with your life. But as an NFL player in 2014, it is embarrassingly obvious that ignoring those lessons will result in a “stay-cation”. So get that right hook ready; but by all means, stay away from StarCaps!
Goodell is not the only culprit in this mind-boggling whiff on the fight against domestic violence; others have to take responsibility as well. I don’t need to dwell on Ray Rice’s role in this situation- it is obvious. If this were a different time, like the 70s in New York City, Ray would have been enrolled in a “Sonny Corleone” type “get some act right session” in the street, complete with garbage can and open fire hydrant. But what about the Ravens? What is their stance on the issue? When do they take action? Besides a simple press release denouncing his actions and some basic tweets, when do they stand up?
The NBA suspended Ron Artest for the season for fighting in the stands in Detroit in 2004 and he wasn’t even the instigator in that incident. In January of 2013, the Steelers cut running back Chris Rainey immediately after he was arrested and charged with domestic abuse after slapping his girlfriend. Their reputation for having a low-tolerance level for off-the-field distractions is well known, and their actions are usually swift. I know many will bring up the antics of Ben Roethlisberger and in no way am I sweeping his behavior under the rug (disclosure, I am a Steelers fan), but he was never actually charged by the prosecution and he was banned by Goodell for six games (later reduced to four). So if their rivals can cut a player for domestic violence, what will the Ravens do? Hopefully they will stand up and impose their own sentence on Rice and send a message to everyone that domestic abuse will not be tolerated. Period.
Yet despite all of the venom that is being thrown in the direction of Rice, Goodell, the Ravens and to some extent Janay Palmer for staying with (and marrying) Ray, this situation is also an example of another hypocrisy that exists in the world of sports, and this is the hypocrisy of black sports journalism. It is a reality that no one will discuss, but thanks to the comments of Stephen A. Smith and Jason Whitlock over the last two weeks, we must address this issue.
Stephen A. Smith voiced his opinions on “First Take” on July 25th, and they were mind numbing to say the least. He stated:
“In Ray Rice’s case, he probably deserves more than a two game suspension, which we both acknowledged. But at the same time, we also have to make sure that we learn as much as we can about elements of provocation.”
Let us first address the words “he probably deserves more than a two game suspension.” Probably? NO doubt exists that he deserves more than two games. Period. Next we discuss the idea of understanding “elements of provocation”. This brought back memories of when the photos were released of Rihanna after Chris Brown assaulted her. Words can cut, truth can pierce, but neither justifies physical abuse against a woman. So neither part of Smith’s statement has any validity, and he should have been held accountable for these comments. To his credit, he is a fierce opponent of domestic violence; when Rice was arrested on February 20th of this year, Smith stared into the camera on “First Take” and told men, especially athletes- “Do not put your hands on a woman. Do not do it. Under any circumstances.” Fast forward five months later and now we have to pause to learn about “elements of provocation”? This in itself is hypocritical, but it also bleeds of the hypocrisy of black sports journalism, where black journalists have an easier time saying things that would have more dire consequences for other journalists. Jason Whitlock joined the fray a few days earlier when, on Keith Olbermann’s show, he discussed Canadian basketball players not wanting “it” as bad in regards to Andrew Wiggins. It angers some, but the “get out of jail free” card is ready to be drawn from Community Chest, preventing them from going to “jail”, aka being fired.
Regardless of Smith’s 16 part twitter statement of clarification and apology to Michelle Beadle (which in itself was weak, but this has become the accepted arena for opinion and apology in today’s socially distant society), she was right for taking him to task, and we are as well.
While we might never fully understand why the punishment was ridiculously and embarrassingly lenient, it will stand as another manifestation of just how hypocritical sports can be. I wonder what Goodell would say to Marissa Alexander down in Florida, who is facing a possible 60 year sentence for firing her legally registered gun in the air while trying to flee from her abusive husband. She’s the victim yet she is fighting for her life in a state that could not bring George Zimmerman to justice. Goodell had the opportunity to drop an “Adam Silver” like bomb on perpetrators of domestic abuse, but instead he fired a Nerf Vortex Aero Howler onto the issue, contributing to the on-going cycle of hypocrisy that so often violates the world of sports.
Sports have become the modern day Roman gladius; the double edged blade that helped forge an empire It represents the duality of good and bad that exists in sports, an entity that has now become a global economy into itself. One that society cannot do without.
Yet isn’t it ironic that the shield is supposed to protect against the sword.