When I was a child, my father hit my mother. Not a lot but enough. It was awful, painful and at times terrifying. It is also ancient history. This isn’t an article about lambasting my father. He is a good man who put all those demons behind him. He is also one lucky guy because he had a good woman who gave him a second chance, an ultimatum and forty years of a mostly happy marriage.
Dear NFL, you’re getting this wrong. Don’t misunderstand, I appreciate
that you are taking strong, if delayed, extraordinary actions in response to
the Ray Rice domestic violence incident which as we are all aware is a symptom
of a much larger problem. Like so many others, I was shocked, horrified and nauseated
by the video which played endlessly on every media source like some sort of macabre
Vine. The issue for me is that you are attacking it for what it is to you, a public
relations nightmare. Firing Mr. Rice from the Ravens, suspending him from the
NFL doesn’t alleviate the problem, it simply hides the evidence.
So what do you do? Well, a lot has been said about whether
or not it is appropriate for a job to act on behalf of a domestic dispute and I’ll
admit, I don’t really want my place of business to have domain over my
non-business related activities beyond the role of intervention. However,
American sports isn’t simply a job. When you are a sports superstar, you are a
hero, an icon and role model to hundreds of thousands of fans, many of whom are
children and teens longing to fill those cleats one day. Sports stars need to be
held to a higher standard. That huge million dollar contract isn’t just to
cover time on the field.
So why isn’t a suspension an appropriate action? Yes, you
are hitting him where it hurts, in the pocketbook, but guess what? Nothing has
changed except that you have put his spouse in graver danger because now he’s
on his way to rock bottom and guess who’s going to be held responsible? What is
the undercurrent message hidden within the penalty? Don’t abuse or don’t get
caught? “For g*d sake, hit your partner in private. Don’t touch the face. And
make sure he or she apologizes for any inconvenience.” Sending an abuser home
to his or her spouse without a paycheck is not putting him or her on the road
to recovery and more importantly it isn’t providing any resources for how to
stop the cycle.
Maybe it’s time we got back to our previous standards of
conduct for athletes as role models. Make Ray Rice the face of reformation. Why
not make his contract contingent on anger management training? Have him speak
in schools, take that ugly video to every high school in America and explain to
a sea of young men and women and their educators how one moment of violence
almost ruined his entire life. Let him face the consequences of his actions
head on, every day, in public and make him stand up as a positive influence.
Have him stand there alone, in front of this crowd and explain how he put his
hands on another human being, knocked the woman he professes to love
unconscious and then unceremoniously dragged her lifeless body out into a
hallway like a bag of trash. Let him face that demon head on and say it was
wrong. Fund this school outreach program from the money which he isn’t losing
from a suspension.
Give him the opportunity to change the minds of fans
world-wide, not by taking a little time off and losing a little money but by
facing them, apologizing, and saying “I will do everything in my power to make
this right.” Make it his job to change the hearts and minds of fans, to change
theirs boos to applause. And if he won’t do that, then he should be fired
because he isn’t doing his job.
Ray Rice is 27 years old and can make a very positive change
for a generation. Don’t let this define him and the NFL. Hold every player to a
higher standard. Every time. It’s time to end the glorification of sports heroes’
bad behavior and use their celebrity for good. NFL, it’s time for an