Ray Rice and the Enabling of Athletes

By now most people have seen the video of Ray Rice sucker punching his wife and then dragging her unconscious body out of an elevator.  It is horrible, and terrible to think that someone could do something like that to someone they love.  The NFL had previously suspended Rice for 2 games, which led to a change in domestic abuse policies within the league, and in the wake of the new video suspended Rice indefinitely.  Seeing no other choice the Ravens cut Rice, a move which seemed to stagger coaches and teammates who spoke with nothing but high praise for a man we had just seen throw a haymaker at a defenseless woman. 

Where does this come from?  How have we come this far? 

Part of the blame has to fall with the College systems which continually enable athletes and has repeatedly covered up their transgressions behind the power of their institutions and armies of lawyers.  Take the case of Jeramy Stevens (whose wife, Hope Solo is in some hot water too) a man who committed such reprehensible acts while a Washington Husky and then Seattle Seahawk that is astounding he is not in prison (and all the more ironic his wife may be soon).  In fact his entire 2000/2001 team was the subject of an excellent book Scoreboard, Baby which is a frightening look at the power of universities to cover up horrible crimes.  Another excellent book is Jeff Benedict’s recent The System which takes an intricate look at all facets of the college game and contextualizes the corruption within brilliantly.  The bottom line: accusers come forward and the colleges do whatever it takes to get them to go away.  Money corrupts absolutely and the way these universities protect their players (who are often pro prospects) is deplorable. 

Another example: Jameis Winston – a Heisman winner whose alleged rape was covered up, made to disappear and has now reappeared due to increasing evidence.  Are all of these allegations true or anywhere close to true?  No chance, famous people always have to worry about future cash grabs, but when there is a big difference between the exception and the rule.  More often than not it seems these athletes and their behavior is covered up to keep the dollars flowing into University coffers – often at the expense of poor students who have no chance against armies of lawyers and huge offers of money to keep silent (The “Kobe Bryant” approach).  It should be noted the US Military has a similar problem of abuse and cover up. 

Where does it stop?  The NFL is the richest and most powerful of all sports leagues, and is facing a myriad of problems from concussion lawsuits through growing substance abuse problems.  There is no single straw which will break their back, the NFL is simply too powerful and popular, but a cumulative effort may force the resignation of commissioner Roger Goodell (whose leadership has been pretty bad). 

One of the greatest things about a democratic society is the right to a fair trial and the NCAA and major sports leagues have rarely given their members anything resembling “fair justice”.  Laughably even when fair trails are given, the punishments are often ludicrously light in order to keep athletes on the field even as the evidence against them is overwhelming (take Greg Hardy a classic case of he said / she said for which he missed virtually no time).  The worst case of all (aside from Kobe): Ray Lewis whom we seem content to pretend did not murder someone in cold blood.  He likely did (or knows who did) and now, more than 14 years later there has been no arrests in the crime and a case that should have become OJ for a new generation has quietly vanished.  Ray Lewis (allegedly) killed a guy, had his blood on him and was in the Superbowl a year later.  Horrible. 

Should we even be surprised by the Ray Rice situation, or should we just shrug and accept it as a “part of the game”.  The enabling needs to stop at the collegiate level in order to break the cycle that has filtered through to the pros, the athletes simply do not know better because they have always been “allowed” to get away with things normal people would be sentenced to life in prison for. 

Athletes must take responsibility for their actions and we must all speak out.  The time for change at all levels is now and we must demand reform, not simply continue to accept the status quo. 

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