by Joshua O’Shaughnessy
Yesterday, when I opened my Facebook feed it seemed to be inundated with posts regarding the Ray Rice situation. As I re-watched the video I started to ask several questions. After much deliberation, I decided to share them, publicly, on the internet. At first, I almost balked at the idea of sharing my opinion for fear of the flame war that might ensue, but I then decided that it needed to be said.
For me, this whole situation has two very serious concerns. The first is clear to see, but the second gets to be a bit blurry depending on which side of the political spectrum you are on. It is the second concern that caused me initial hesitation and ultimately led me to be vocal.Lets start with Ray Rice. Back in February a hotel CCTV monitor captured him savagely attack his then fiancé. (They are now married.) The video shows him brutally strike her while (behind closed doors) in an elevator. So hard, in fact, that she is knocked out and unconscious and needs to be carried from the elevator like a sack of potatoes and dropped on the floor just beyond the threshold.
When this video was made public, NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, was forced to act. Ray Rice was suspended for two games for his involvement in his vicious attack on a woman. That prior week, Roger Goodell suspended Washington Redskins defensive player Brandon Meriweather for repeat offenses involving illegal hits on defenseless players. Meriweather’s suspension was also for two games.
So, lets do the math… In the NFL you receive the same suspension for repeated “rules violations” as you do for savagely attacking women. It was only after yesterday’s public outcry that Roger Goodell and the Baltimore Ravens were forced to suspend Ray Rice indefinitely to save face from bad publicity. A little late in my opinion. Why was the initial punishment not harsher? Why should it take a public response to react appropriately?
This brings me to concern #2…
Remember Richard Icognito? He was the Miami Dolphin player who was “deservingly” vilified last season for bullying and racism in the locker room. Mr. Goodell, representing the NFL, along with the Miami Dolphins acted swiftly and appropriately by suspending him for the season. A clear message was sent by the league that these actions were not to be tolerated.
Lets go back to last season in the NBA. Most of the headlines were not about basketball as much as they were about the lifetime ban placed on L.A. Clippers owner, Donald Sterling. Granted, Sterling’s audio was less than what his surname implies, the guy is truly an idiot.
If you remember the story, Donald Sterling made private comments that were recorded (behind closed doors) and then made public. When those comments were heard publicly, the decision was made by the league, represented by NBA commissioner Adam Silver, to award him a lifetime ban from the league and fine him $2.5 Million dollars.
Ray Rice violently beats his fiancé in an elevator and drags her out to drop her on the floor=2 game suspension.
Richard Icognito speaks hatefully towards teammates+bullies teammates+is and idiot=1 season suspension.
Donald Sterling speaks hurtfully about minorities PRIVATELY=1 lifetime ban + $2.5 Million fine + loss of ownership.
Now a question. What if Donald Sterling were black? What if Ray Rice were white? Do you think the outcomes would be different? This is the concern I had that I almost chose to remain silent about. I feared a backlash of a very common agenda that we have in our country these days. I feared I would fall victim to this agenda for “asking a question.” I feared I’d look racist for bringing up the color involved in all of this. (It’s almost ridiculous how fear can be such a powerful form of censorship to our first amendment rights). Then I realized that this is exactly what the people I fear would do if roles were reversed. (i.e., A white cop shoots and kills a black teen and it’s automatically about race. And if you don’t see that it’s racist then, you too, are racist).
You know the tricky part of that? What if Donald Sterling was black? Would African-American Donald Sterling still be an NBA owner if he privately asked his girlfriend to not publicly be seen with white people?
What if Richard Icognito was black? Would a black Richard Icognito receive a season long suspension for calling a teammate a “cracker” or making remarks about their “white privilege?”
And what if Ray Rice was white? What would the news be reporting now if a white Ray Rice savagely beat his black girlfriend? Or even his white girlfriend? Would there be any question that a white Ray Rice would be asked to never come back, even from the beginning? Was Roger Goodell’s initial response to this crime made out of the fear that I mentioned earlier?
The sad part in all of this shouldn’t need to be pointed out. Rules are set up in our country that should apply to everyone regardless of monetary stature, political affiliation, creed, sex or race, etc… Ray Rice has been accepted into a pre-trial intervention program and will avoid jail-time. Make no mistake, his offense was brutal and violent. His punishment for beating his fiancé will not be a legal battle which would see him fighting to keep his freedoms. Instead, he will receive a blow to his bank account by losing his seasonal contract and paying for a public relations firm to make himself look like a victim. And team owners will soon have the option of picking him up next season; after it has all blown over.
In the end, the important concern here should be the violence. Violence toward anyone should not be tolerated. Sure, words are powerful and they can hurt. The words of a father spoken in moments of ignorance can lead toward the unjustifiable anger of his offspring toward people who don’t deserve it. The point in racism that needs to be understood is that racism can lead to violence. One of the reasons we seek to end racism is because it can lead to violence.
But in two different cases of racism where ignorance is only verbalized, we crush it with swift justice. We outcast the men who were once powerful and dignified and we throw them into obscurity and vilify them. But when the true violence rears its ugly head, we look the other way and accept it? A man savagely attacks a woman and the same kind of people who have the power to make decisions give him a 2 week vacation and he is free to live the high life?
I would say we missed the mark.