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 intervention.